North American Junior U20

Sometimes you unexpectedly come across low-hanging fruit.  But that doesn’t mean you are still able to easily pluck and eat it.  This is the story of such a time.

On July 26 I wrapped up the Czech Open, the last tournament on my month-long Europe tour and was all set to return back home! The tournament didn’t go very well for me as I drew several lower rated players, and was unable to get anything going.  After the last round, my Dad and I went through a grueling 4-hour journey in order to get from Pardubice to the airport in Prague. We finally arrived there at around midnight, completely exhausted, and tried to catch some sleep before our early morning flight home after a stopover. We arrived home on the evening of July 28. It felt great to be home and see my mom and brother, after a long fatiguing trip! There wouldn’t be much time for rest however, as I was due to play the North American Junior, for which I had to travel in three days. The winner of the tournament would receive the IM Title, which was of no relevance to me since I already had one, but more importantly a GM norm as well! This tournament was never on our calendar, and we planned to get a week’s rest or so before heading out for The Washington International tournament in Rockville. We learnt about the NA Junior while still on the road in Europe, and felt like this was a splendid opportunity to makeup for the narrow miss in Paracin.

Getting some rest and overcoming the jetlag was the least of my problems; things were about to get a lot worse. The next day I started feeling enervated and on Tue, I felt extremely ill with a sore body, fever and a constant retching sensation. The Doctor told me it was the Flu, and nothing could be done about it as it takes a week to get over. Her advice - take rest, drink fluids, for you can’t hold down food, and manage the intense body pain with medication for a week. The doctor was not in favor of me going so far to play another tournament. The medication wasn’t really helping. In the early morning hours on Wed – 30th before we were to start, I fainted while attempting to stand up.  Fortunately, I didn’t hit my head on the floor directly but fell towards the wall and then tumbled sideways and hit the floor. I’ve always wondered how people can just faint; aren’t they aware of what’s happening? Well I can tell you first hand, No! I felt a black wave of nausea overcome me, and my head became really light just as I passed out.  My Dad repeatedly kept telling me that we didn’t have to go if I wasn’t feeling up to it. After all I could barely even get up from bed, let alone sit-up and play a game of chess :) . It was only sheer will and determination to play the game and try for a Norm, that got me out of bed that day.

The drive to Kitchener, Canada was going to be 10 hours long. That’s plenty of time for some rest and relaxation, right? Unfortunately, wrong :( . I had to deal with retching sensations the entire trip. We also encountered a vicious storm when we entered Canada, accompanied by blinding sheets of rain! When we finally made it to the hotel room, I simply collapsed and my condition was worse. The hotel reception and the tournament organizer told us about some health care centers, in case of an emergency. So here I was on the brink of the tournament, which was to start the next morning, and still as sick as a dog. The next few days I just survived on fluids, pain killers and very little food.

In the morning, I felt a bit better and my fever was coming down to normal. I still felt extremely nauseous however, and just walking to the playing hall made me feel like passing out. Carrying a retching bag , I showed up at my table . The pairings came, but I had no strength to get up and look. I just waited for the opponent to show up.

I started off well and was extremely happy that I was able to win my first 4 games, despite being completely devitalized. The game quality wasn’t the highest from my side in the games that I was Black, but it was good enough to comfortably get the Win, which was all that mattered. After winning my 4th game, I faced Edward Song in Round 5.  It was a quick Draw, something that was frustrating, especially since I was White.  I was determined to play longer and stronger in the next round against Tanraj Sohal, who was having a breakout tournament with Wins over some higher rated players.  I made use of my double-white, and outplayed Tanraj, ending the day with 5.5/6. Things were looking good! After the game, for the first time I stepped out from the Hotel since we came, to walk around a few blocks. I was starting to feel better, and was regaining my strength.

The next morning I faced Andrew Tang as Black. The game went wrong for me right from the start, when I mashed two variations resulting in what I believe is a lost position.

I fought back tooth and nail, surviving a +10 (!) position for Tang, but in the end I missed two fairly straightforward instances where I could easily overcome the advantage I handed out. Tang played accurately enough to hold on to the advantage presented to him, and eventually Win. He was already playing strongly prior to this round, and after this round I felt he deserved to come first.

I was stunned that I lost to a lower rated, something I hadn’t done in a really long time. That one loss was enough to lose control of the tournament.  In the penultimate round, I Drew with Canadian IM Richard Wang. At that point, I no longer had a shot at 1st and the coveted GM norm. To play the final round and achieve 2nd or 3rd would get me Titles/Norms that I already possessed. To me, it just made sense to step aside and let others who could benefit from such title awards duel it out in the last round. My Dad also agreed but more importantly for him from my health perspective was the benefit of not going through the strain of another round.

As I look back and see the Norms & Titles awarded to other players, I feel it was the right decision. Of course, the regret of letting things slip through my hand lingers. In any case, with the Arbiters/Directors ready to post the pairing and leave for the night, we had to make a quick decision.

The ride back was once again a very long one.  We did have time to stop at the majestic Niagara Falls, and that made for a good change after the events of the previous days. I would like to thank the organizers Patrick McDonald and Hal Bond for organizing a highly professional and perfect FIDE tournament, and the Arbiters team for their help and understanding during the tournament.

I want to keep covering my misses as well for other players to realize that ‘Downs’ also come with the ‘Ups,’ and we still got to pick ourselves up and keep moving on!

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Rene Preotu, FIDE Arbiter and Chess Parent

Recently, my attention was drawn to a comment by Rene Preotu on a Canadian chess message board, characterizing me as someone who withdraws from tournaments when Norm chances don’t exist.

J. Wang “But did IM Akshat Chandra withdraw from the tournament?”
R. Preotu “He did the same thing last year at Quebec Open and also from other US tournaments when he had no more chances for norms.”

Well, Mr. Preotu is clearly mistaken and unfortunately highly irresponsible in his comments. As a FIDE Arbiter, he should be more professional and refrain from making controversial remarks about Chess Players on message boards, particularly when he is so wrong.

I withdrew from the Quebec Open because I had a throat infection, perhaps because of the chemical fumes that we had to breathe for days as the first floor gym was being cleaned, while we were staying a few floors above in the dorms; not to mention the intense Summer heat and no air conditioning. Mr. Preotu could have easily verified the reasons with his Arbiter colleagues at the tournament since he was present there. Instead he made his own assumptions. He could have easily searched and found my posting from 2013 on the Quebec Open which also discusses my condition. In addition, being a FIDE Arbiter he of all people should know that my IM norm chances did not exist after ~Round 5.  So by his logic, I should not have played from R6 onwards. Why wait till R9 to withdraw?

Searching for Facts is hard work. It’s easier to shoot off some irresponsible and erroneous comments and washing your hands off it. Mr. Preotu’s mischaracterization was read by several others on the message board. Eventually it became a factoid when others accepted and started building on it, and I’m left now to correct the printed record in the public domain. In addition, since Mr. Preotu seems to be following my tournament record closely, I’d be glad if he can post in the comments section the list of US tournaments that I’ve withdrawn from after my Norm chances were gone.

Separately, Mr. Preotu’s comment also raises another issue. Withdrawing from tournaments is a very personal and difficult decision. Players do it for they feel it’s right for them. It’s their decision. Besides the official Arbiters and Organizers, it’s no one else’s business. You’re not sponsoring or paying for the player’s travel, hotel, and tournament expenses; nor are you aware of their health or state of mind, etc. So with a limited view of the situation, why complain? Perhaps if you sponsor the player, then one can understand the questioning.

Having said that, I generally don’t like withdrawals that occur once pairings are already posted and round is to begin shortly. Of course exceptions are there, but if players wait till last minute to withdraw after pairings are already posted, that is detrimental to the interests of the other players.

People may have different views on this subject, and I’m sure they’ll post them in the Comments section.

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Right before I leave, I want to leave you guys with two puzzles from my R3 game, against the talented Canadian FM Jason Cao. In the first one, White to play and win an exchange!

In the 2nd puzzle, find White’s quickest way to victory!

Until next time!

T7S – The Seventh Samurai

North American Junior 2014, The Walper Hotel, Kitchener, Canada

North American Junior 2014, The Walper Hotel, Kitchener, Canada

IMG_8285 IMG_8286 IMG_8292 IMG_8294 IMG_8301

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The Seventh Samurai

I came across a post written by a fellow chess enthusiast, Dana Mackenzie, on his blog, He really wrote an awesome article profiling me, and I want to express my gratitude to him.

Thanks Dana !

The first lines are:

“Not long ago I wrote here jokingly about the fact that the U.S. has “too many” young players getting IM and GM norms. I hope everyone realizes I wasn’t serious… This is a true golden era of American chess.  Today I was browsing the list of the top 100 juniors in the world, and I came across a name I hadn’t seen before:

81. Chandra, Akshat (USA) 2442

There are seven Americans on the list, and all of the others are very familiar to me. Ray Robson at #10/11. Daniel Naroditsky, chess author and last year’s U.S. Junior champion, at #21. Kayden Troff, the current U.S. Junior champion, at #39. Darwin Yang at #47. Samuel Sevian at #63. And even Jeffrey Xiong at #86 is someone I knew about. But who is Akshat Chandra?….  “

To read the full post, click here !

He refers to me as the “Seventh Samurai,” a reference to the famous 1954 movie “Seven Samurai.” I must say I like that title a lot, and will now definitely go by that nickname in the future :)

Peace out – The Seventh Samurai.

Tied 1st at the Paracin International Open
Missed GM Norm by a Whisker!

Checking in from Europe to give a little update.

I tied first with 7.5/9 at the Paracin International Open in Central Serbia! 2700 GM Richard Rapport took first on better tiebreak. I missed my GM norm by a whisker, as my average opponent rating was a few points less then what was required. But nonetheless, it was definitely a memorable tournament! I needed to play an opponent rated 2470/+ in the last round, and a draw would be required for a norm. Unfortunately, I got paired with a 2443, which wrecked the norm chance. Oh well, at least my game’s in the right place, and I had a 2650 performance :D.

Here’s a link to the official report that appeared on Chessdom. Below’s my game with the 2700 GM ,and World Junior #2 Richard Rapport.

 

Moments before the Final Round

Moments before the Final Round

Tied 1st at the Paracin International Open, Serbia

Akshat Chandra – Tied 1st at the Paracin International Open, Serbia

At the 18th century Holy Trinity Church - a famous landmark monument on the banks of River Crnica in Paracin

At the 18th century Holy Trinity Church – a famous landmark monument on the banks of River Crnica in Paracin – Akshat Chandra

My last round win over GM Abramovic.

 

 

 

9-year old storms through GMs!

I thought I’ll share an article I just published on ChessBase.  It was about a 9-year old beating a couple of GM’s. I don’t know the young phenom, but such a feat is extremely rare and highly impressive at his age. That’s why I thought I’ll provide some coverage on it and highlight his accomplishment to a broader and appreciative chess community. Hopefully the exposure he’s getting on a premier chess new site like Chessbase will assist him in getting even more recognition in his country and the support he may need, and very well deserves. The entire article can be viewed here.  The first few lines are reposted below. If you have comments on the article, please post them on Chessbase and share your like/dislike preference.

ChessBasearticle

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A few weeks ago I was randomly surfing some chess results, and stumbled on to a tournament played in Uzbekistan. I went through the results of the first round to see if there were any major upsets, and as I was about to move on, something caught my eye. I noticed that a very high-rated GM (exactly 2600) Andrei Zhigalko lost his first round to a 2057 FIDE rated player. This is of course a huge upset.  But what makes it even more incredible is that the 2057 was a 9 year old! That’s right, a 9 year old took down a 2600. This was no fluke or a flippant move by the opponent turning into a major blunder. This was a gritty, square-by-square grind-down in which the 9 year old FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan prevailed.

9-year old FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov

9-year old FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov

 

Like Mike!

Sorry my dear readers, it’s been a crazy month and a half in which I played 4 norm tournaments, striking gold in one of them! But that’s not the subject I wish to discuss right now. After a long period of dormancy, I’m back to updating the blog with some new posts.

Ever heard the expression “Like Mike?”

Maybe you’ve seen the movie. The ‘Mike’ in context refers to the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. Well there’s another Mike here in the chess world whom I’d like to bring to your attention, and his name is Michael Regan.

Who’s that you might ask?

Well, in my opinion he is one of the finest chess tournament organizers here in America!

Mike is the Treasurer of the Maryland Chess Association.  Even more important, he is the chief organizer of the major tournaments in the state of MD, and truly the force that has brought forward top-class tournaments here on the East coast. The most notable of Mike’s tournaments is the Washington International – a full fledged 9-round Norm tournament that will be again hosted in August this year. For more information, click here.

Mike also hosts a series of 5-round tournaments – a couple of them being the Baltimore Open and the Potomac Open. What I love so much about his tournaments is that regardless of your chess level, you are still treated as a professional! I try to play some of his 5 round tournaments from time to time, and I get to play on elegant wooden DGT boards in each round! That’s right. DGT boards for the top 8 tables, just for a small 5 round tourney! Even after the DGT tables run out, many of the remaining tables are provided with wooden boards.

I’ve been playing on the US Chess circuit for over a year now, and can confidently say that Mike’s tournaments are always a pleasure to play, thanks to the conditions he provides.

He also keeps official FIDE time controls (90+30 sec inc, add 30 mins after 40 moves) in his tournaments, instead of the “delay” format that is used in several American tournaments. That’s how the world plays. In addition, the clocks are already provided for each board. Helpfully, the pairings are texted out each round as soon as they’re ready. This is truly a big aid and so parents/players don’t have to hang around pairing boards. When it comes to winning a prize in the 5 round tourneys, you are not given one based on your ranking, but on your points. 3.5 is the minimum for a prize. The upside – the player knows exactly what they have to do in any given round if they are playing to secure a minimum prize. Each time I’ve stayed at the tournament hotel, the in-room WiFi is part of the package and breakfast is included for some morning rounds. This is a good deal with the hotel on behalf of players as a group.

So this concludes my brief post, which was just a shout-out to an awesome organizer here in the US. I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, for I wanted to share how very much I’ve enjoyed playing in Mike’s tournaments. As Chess players, we need to show our support for organizers that work very hard to give us a good environment to play. It’s great for us and great for Chess. 

I hope you will be able to play at these tournaments as well, particularly the Washington International in August! I’m sure you’ll also ‘Like Mike!’

Akshat Chandra and Mike ReganPotomac Open 2013

Akshat Chandra and Mike Regan
Potomac Open 2013

Akshat Chandra and GM XXXXX - Washington International 2013

Akshat Chandra and GM Yuniesky Quseda Perez- Washington International 2013

Akshat Chandra at Washington International

Akshat Chandra at Washington International 2013

 

Achieving the 1st GM Norm!

The Marshall Chess Club organized a GM Norm Invitational tournament from April 04 to April 13. It was a 9 round, 10-player Round-robin, with 6.5 points required for a GM norm and 5 points for an IM norm. The participants included 3 GMs, 4 IMs and 1 FM. The players, by FIDE rating, were:

GM Tamaz Gelashvili (GEO) 2584
GM Mark Paragua (PHI) 2495
GM Mikheil Kekelidze (GEO) 2485
IM Raja Panjwani (CAN) 2450
IM Yaacov Norowitz (USA) 2426
IM Columban Vitoux (FRA) 2414
Matthew Herman (USA) 2389
FM Michael Bodek (USA) 2376
Igor Sorkin (ISR) 2375
IM Akshat Chandra (USA) 2370

This was my first round-robin tournament. One of the benefits of such a tournament is that you don’t have to wait till the last few minutes before the round-time to learn who your opponent is, with little time to prepare for the game. The drawing of lots took place on April 1st, which gave the participants time to prepare accordingly.

The tournament was opened by Stuart Chagrin, Club President, and Dr. Marcus Fenner, Club Executive Director and Organizer. International Arbiter Dr. Frank Brady was the Chief TD. It was a wonderful and historic setting with the greats of the games peering down from the framed pictures on the walls. The wooden boards and the exquisite chess pieces added to the stature of the tournament, not to mention sitting a few tables away from the one on which Fischer and Capablanca both played.

Nearly all the games were decisive in the first round with only one draw. That was the game I played with GM Mark Paragua from Philippines. Mark is a really strong and experienced GM, with a peak rating of 2621. He surprised me in the opening by playing the Caro-Kann, which put me out of my preparation instantly. So much for the last couple of days of prep. Some inaccuracies by my side allowed him to equalize pretty quickly. I started to get low on time, and tried to trade pieces and force a Draw. But that almost backfired, since I got into a passive Queen Endgame in which I nearly lost. Nonetheless, I managed to secure a draw with a perpetual check.

A highlight of the first round was FM Michael Bodek’s upset win over GM Kekelidze.

I was extremely relieved to save my first-round game. The initial nervousness and jitters were settling down. In my next game playing Black against IM Colomban Vitoux, I outplayed him and achieved a winning position. But in the ensuing time trouble I bungled my advantage and had to settle for a draw. I was disappointed with the outcome, but I knew my game was in the right place, and I had to manage the time. In the third round, I overcame IM Raja Panjwani, a strong IM from Canada, which put me on 2/3. I felt I was starting to hit my stride.

But then in the next game against FM Bodek, I was again forced to settle for a draw after bungling my winning advantage, once again due to time pressure. This was extremely frustrating, since I was ruining well-played games due to my shoddy time management. I rebounded from the setback, and in Round 5 defeated Matt Herman, known for his striking attacks, and picturesque finishes. Luckily, our game was much calmer and positional :)

Going into the break after five rounds, there were 4 players mathematically in contention for a GM norm – Raja Panjwani, Michael Bodek, Matthew Herman and I.

In the second-half, Raja Panjwani made his intentions well-known with a strong win against GM Kekelidze in Round 6. Meanwhile, I was able to earn a full point against IM Norowitz, while Bodek and Herman drew their game against each other. Heading into the final day with two rounds, it was Panjwani and me still in the running for a GM norm, while Bodek and Herman had a shot at an IM norm. In the 8th round I was able to overcome Igor Sorkin and moved to 6 points – just a ½ point away. Meanwhile, Panjwani played valiantly but could not get past the solid Mark Paragua, and ended up losing the game.

In the final round I made a draw with GM Kekelidze which allowed me to reach 6 ½ points. That sealed the deal and I clinched my maiden GM norm in the hallowed halls of the The Marshall Chess Club!

In the meantime, Bodek played strongly against Igor Sorkin and secured his full point needed to reach the IM norm. This was Bodek’s final IM norm. Since he had earlier crossed the rating requirement of ELO 2400, henceforth he will be referred to as IM Bodek :) Final standings are available here.

Even though Igor Sorkin could not achieve what he set out to do, he won another kind of Norm in the game of life. He was blessed with a baby boy during the break in the tournament, and achieved his first Fatherhood Norm.

I was thrilled to achieve my 1st GM norm and played strongly throughout the tournament. I had recently returned from an excellent tournament, the UTD Spring Open FIDE in Dallas, where I played strongly to start off but then lost my way after an optical blunder (overlooked a pawn, maybe because of a reflective board ;-) ). My game was feeling strong, and I really wanted to avoid silly mistakes heading into the Marshalls GM Invitational. As my friend GM Daniel Naroditsky told me after the event, “the first one is the hardest.” I hope he’s right :)

Thanks to the GMs for participating and giving us an opportunity to seek norms, and most importantly thanks to The Marshall Chess Club for hosting a wonderful Round Robin tournament. I hope there will be more. Remember, the NY International, hosted by the Club, begins on June 18.

SAME ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON CHESSBASE PART 1 AND  PART 2 , AND ON USCF HERE.

Opening Ceremoney - Club President, Stuart Chagrin

Opening Ceremoney – Club President, Stuart Chagrin

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Mark Paragua

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Mark Paragua

IM Akshat Chandra and FM Michael Bodek
IM Akshat Chandra and FM Michael Bodek

 

There can only be One.
The US Championship 2014

The US Men’s and Women Championship is by far the most prestigious and honorable tournament in the United States. What makes it even more enticing is that it is held at the storied St. Louis Chess Club, where everything appears just perfect. This year’s men’s event is a Round Robin, unlike last year’s which fielded 24 players, with the players average rating of a hefty ~2610. The tournament is spearheaded by the rating favorite and four times champion, GM Gata Kamsky, with a 2713 (!) FIDE. Some of my friends (the friendship is one-way at least :) ) that I’ll be rooting for are GMs Robson, Naroditsky, Akobian and Lenderman.

Three rounds have occurred, and Lenderman is in sole lead with an incredible 2.5/3, while Robson and Gareev follow closely behind with 2/3. Remarkably, there have been only four decisive games (two are a courtesy of GM Lenderman :) ) with the other 14 ending in draws. Now that nobody can score a perfect 11-0 in both the Men’s and Women’s Section, the bonus $64,000 Fischer prize is unattainable for this year’s event, and Bobby Fischer doesn’t have to worry this year. He truly was peerless and remains so.  Btw, in case some of you might not understand Bobby Fischer’s reference, he is the only person to have scored a perfect 11-0 at a US Championship.  He accomplished his feat in 1964, and it has remained one of the best individual performances ever at a US championship.  The award is to commemorate Fischer’s achievement and it’s my belief the amount was worked out at $1,000 per square for a total of $64,000.  Or I believe it commemorates the year ’64 when Fischer won the round.

Here’s an interesting battle Ray played against GM Erenburg in the first round:

GM Ray Robson, off to great start with 2/3. (All photos courtesy of http://www.uschesschamps.com/2014-us-championship-player-bios)

For some reason, the PGN on the official site for the R1 games is really the R2 games. So I can’t just copy paste it into ChessBase, and have to manually put the moves in. After expending my efforts analyzing the Robson-Erenburg game, I’m kinda lazy now to put in Lenderman’s long win against Friedel. So when they fix that, I’ll update this article with his games as well . Here’s Lenderman’s R3 win against Ramirez:

UPDATE: Lenderman’s R1 win against Friedel:

 

GM Lenderman off to a splendid start as well with 2.5/3

Unfortunately, Naroditsky lost today to Gareev in a game I felt that Danya defended valiantly, but his position was just too hard in the end. Don’t worry Daniel, just rebound with the White pieces in the next game and put to use the training I’ve given you. By training, I mean losing 10-0 to him in our blitz sessions :) . Anyways, about the game with Gareev today, just “Fuggedaboutit!”

Reigning US Junior Champ,GM Naroditsky

Varuzhan “Var” has made a steady start with 1.5/3, and is definitely right in the mix of things. He drew with the veteran and experienced GM Alexander Onischuk, another strong player who can’t be overlooked. Wait, this is the US Championship, NOBODY can be overlooked, especially not a 2650+ GM like Onischuk :P

The solid and ultra-precise, GM Akobian

The one who cannot be over looked, GM Onischuk :)

In the Women’s Section, GM Krush is in the lead along with IM Zatonskih, both with 2.5/3. A nice surprise in their section has been Ashrita Eswaran who is on an outstanding 2/3, considering she’s only 13 years old.

5 time US Women’s Champ, GM Irina Krush, tied for the lead with 2.5/3

4 time US Champ, also tied in the lead with 2.5/3, IM Anna Zatonskih

The commentary duo was a bit different then usual today, with GM Ben Finegold filling in for WGM Jen Shahade. Ben’s a great and funny guy, just read his blog postings, I guarantee you will laugh at least once :) . GM Yasser Seirawan was outstanding as usual, and GM Maurice Ashley had some nice insights too.

Looking forward to the action tomorrow, and may we see some exciting fighting chess in the coming rounds! Who will triumph and etch their names into the history books forever? After all, there can only be One.

2014 champs2014 champs2014 champs2014 champs2014 champs2014 champs

PS (Am I the only who who just noticed St Loui’s “Arch” above the King and Queen? :))

Once a King Always a King
Mental Strength and Grit – Carlsen wins Gashimov Memorial 2014

Has it really been 2 months since my last blog post ?!?!  Wow, time flies.  Doesn’t it?

The first thing I want to say is that the Chess World lost a gem of a player and person in GM Vugar Gashimov, who passed away in January 2014.  Vugar, you’ll forever remain in our hearts.  His sudden passing brings to mind one of his quotes, “HAPPINESS – IS TO BE NEAR YOUR BELOVED ONES. MISFORTUNE – IS TO LOSE THESE PEOPLE.”

The Gentle King - Vugar Gashimov 1986-2014

Vugar Gashimov 1986-2014
(photo : Chessbase)

In memory and honor of this wonderful being, the Gashimov Memorial tournament was born, and held over a span of 10 days in Shamkir, Azerbajain, with the last round just finishing yesterday.  As expected, Carlsen won, adding yet another feather to his cap.  He’s got so many feathers now, that he can strut around like a peacock :D .  Can anyone remember the last time Carlsen DIDN’T win a major high-level tournament?  That’s pure dominance right there.

The Drawing of the Lots took place on the 19th, with .. you guessed it, Carlsen “winning” the 1st lot (Heck, this guy comes 1st even in the Drawing of Lots as well :) ), granting him a double-white for the first 2 rounds.  This made things a lot easier for his first two opponents, since they now knew the best start they could hope for was 1/2 :)

Carlsen raced out to a 2/2 start, maximizing his double-white benefit, beating Mamedyarov and Nakamura in the process.  It seems like his games with Nakamura have become a bit of a grudge match, as the two players have engaged in a little verbal jousting (My fellow Pink Panther fans, you know what I mean by this:) ) with each other.  Talk is Talk.  But Carlsen Walks the Walk, since his score against Nakamura is now 10-0 in classical games (not counting Draws).  Advantange: Carlsen :D .  Below is an annotation I did of Magnus’ first round game, a striking win against Mamedyarov:

Carlsen’s 2nd round game against Nakamura saw a position similar to that of Carlsen – Kamsky, Sinquefield Cup 2013, in which after some maneuvering of the pieces, Carlsen was able to trade into a slightly better endgame which he converted.  No suprise there :)

Things were looking great for him at this stage.  After an exciting draw against Karjakin, which was an “Almost-won, Almost-Lost” for both players, Carlsen faced Caruana with Black once again.  It started out as a Berlin, which of course bored everyone to death :) .  But things began to pick up on the 20th move.  Caruana was enjoying a nice space advantage, and some inaccuracies from Carlsen further added to Caruana’s bonus.  A tactical error by Magnus on the 24th move, sealed the deal, and from there on Caruana slowly but surely converted his material and positional advantage.

This must have been a hard blow for Carlsen.  After playing great chess for 3 rounds, he lost in a rather one-sided battle.  But no matter, he had the White pieces now, and was Angry. His 5th round against Radjabov started out as a Kings Indian, with Carlsen choosing a line rarely seen at the top level.  Radjabov lashed out with 19.f5, a typical Kings Indian move, undeterred by the fact that his King was somewhat exposed on h7.  An erroneous capture in the center with 22.Nxe4 by Magnus, saw him lose an exchange by force.  He definitely had some compensation, but Radjabov was able to induce some weaknesses, after which Carlsen’s positional crumbled and he was forced to resign.  Yes, Resign!

My God, what was this ! Two losses in a row from Magnus ?!  The last time he lost twice in a row was in 2010 – 4 years ago, and the year I started chess as a FIDE rated player!  To put it in comparison, the last time I lost two in a row was 6 1/2 months ago.  That’s not so bad on its own, but when you look at the last time Magnus lost 2 in a  row … :) .  I could relate what Magnus was going through.  So sent him a tweet with my tips on what to do after tough losses I did.  Yoda aside, it’s clear that he read it since he unleashed the Kraken, rampaging through the field in the 2nd half to score 4/5 , coming 1st by a clear point with 6.5/9.  Here’s his final round win against Caruana:

So what was it that led to such a spectacular turn around ?

Mental Strength and Determination.  Magnus writes “The rest day with the exciting football cup was just what I needed.  Our team of international players, with help from two Azeri players in the final, won on penalty shoot out.  I’m feeling more energetic, and although my play isn’t perfect, the results have been terrific after the rest day.”  So for him, it was watching his favorite soccer team that relaxed him and helped him to forget the agony of the previous 2 rounds.  Whatever your thing is that helps you relax and put aside painful losses, it’s important to do that immediately.  It builds Mental Strength, and the Will to keep fighting.  That’s what makes a Champion!

Funding a Quest!

Chess is one of the sports that is hard to fund and find sponsors for. It lacks the global awareness and treatment that more popular sports receive, such as basketball, soccer, and tennis. In the US, Federal and State governments grants are not part of the culture here. Young and strong emerging players in countries like Russia, India and China have an advantage, since chess is state supported to some extent, directly or through government owned companies, and there is much more corporate sponsorship thus allowing players to benefit from training and tournament experience.

But players in United States don’t have such an option.  So where do the young players go to fund their Quest to become outstanding chess players.  There is no Federation help, and there are obviously no Sports grants.  

Well, we don’t give up.  We lean on our parents. We lean on our well-wishers. We knock on doors, and try to persuade people who can relate to a hard Quest to support it. That’s how we do it. One square at a time.

I’ve demonstrated a strong pace of progress in the last 4 years, and I intend to work very hard to get to the end. As I embark on the final leg of my Quest, for the first time I’m trying to raise donor funds to help me catapult to the GM title. With your help I’ll get there even faster. Thanks for your support!

If someone wishes to talk about sponsorship opportunities, please write to me at Akshat (at) QuestToGM (dotcom).

Tying for First at The US Amateur Team East 2014

The US Amateur Team East is held every year in Parsippany, NJ.  It’s the most well-attended annual team tournament in the country with ~1200 players showing up in 278 teams this year, and by far dwarfing other similar regional tournaments across the country!  Here’s an excerpt taken from a related USCF article regarding the main rule: “The four-player teams (some come with alternates as well) must average below 2200 and play in board-order.”  USCF coverage of the event can be viewed here and here.

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The Cake Came out Early :) .  The Tournament coincided with the 75th anniversary celebration of USCF, and everyone was treated to a sumptuous cake and coffee. Happy B’day USCF!

Our team average was  2197, and I believe we were third seed beginning the tournament. Not bad for four school kids! It was the first time I was playing this tournament.  I was Board 1 for our team called “What does the GM say?  CheckCheckCheckmate!” (I know it’s lame, but it wasn’t my idea :) ).  On the Superbowl weekend, when I decided to play, I was thinking of something like “The Lords of the Kings!” :) (if it hadn’t been used in the past).  There were some pretty cool team names, and the one which was quite topical and voted best was “NSA is Perpetually Checking.”

Our team captain was Grant Xu playing on Board 2.  He was the mastermind behind the compiling of a high average rating.  On Board 3 was Siddharth Arun, and on Board 4 was Jason Tang.  So this was our team of School children from Grades 10, 11, 9 and 6, respectively. I knew Grant, but had never met my other teammates.  All three of them were from MA, while I was a local NJ player.  I was a late addition to the team – a roster change.  Less than two weeks before the tournament Grant approached me through this blog for a fill-in, since the original Board 1 could no longer play.

Akshat Chandra and Grant Xu

Akshat Chandra and Grant Xu

In the first round we played the Bad News Bishops, and won 3-1.  I played Ed Kopiecki (2000 FIDE), a regular attendee at New York’s Marshall Chess Club Tournaments.  He had gained my attention the previous weekend when he yelled out to a friend “I beat Bonin!” (one of the more senior players at the Marshall Chess Club) in the middle of a round :) .  I won my game fairly quickly,  but what transpired at the end was hilarious!  After I played Qxc4, which effectively sealed the game since Ed was a Rook down, he just sat there without moving.  About 15 minutes later when Ed’s Board 4 resigned and was walking past him, Ed began an amusing convo with his friend while it was still his Move.  Here is the transcript :)

Kopiecki: ” Where are you going?!”

Board 4 Friend: “I’m going out to lunch.”

Kopeicki: Stands up and says “Oh, well wait for me, I wanna come with you! Let me just resign.”

Board 4 Friend: “Did you resign yet ?”

Kopiecki: Begins scouring notation sheet, and then looks up and says, “No.  Let me Resign.” He then looks at me and says, “I resign!”

All the team members stopped playing and were just following this conversation.  I couldn’t help laughing along with the other players, and was half-expecting Ed to say “Rematch at Marshall’s!”

R1 - Ed Kopiecki and Akshat Chandra on Board 1

R1 : Ed Kopiecki and Akshat Chandra on Board 1

Here’s the game:

We played Hamilton Chess Club in the next round.  I was playing White against FM Boris Privman (2197 FIDE).  The game was extremely long and enervating, and lasted for 6 hours into the night.  But in the end I prevailed.  It wasn’t the best game from my side at all, as I could have ended the game much earlier.  Our Board 3 and Board 4 Won as well, while our Board 2 Drew.  So we won the match 3.5-0.5.

R2 : Akshat Chandra and Boris Privman

R2 : Akshat Chandra and Boris Privman

In the 3rd round we played a team from Florida, Kingside Crushers, and I faced their Board 1, Jeffery Haskel (2224 FIDE).  He employed an extremely sharp line with 5.g3, which led to a rich and complex middlegame.  However, a hasty central advance by him in the early middlegame tipped the scale to my side irrevocably.  My c8 Bishop, which was shut-in most of the game, was the hero in the end :)

R3 : Akshat Chandra and Jeffrey Haskel

R3 : Akshat Chandra and Jeffrey Haskel

So halfway into the tournament, we were tied for the lead with 3-0.  I liked the way I had played my 3rd round , but still wasn’t satisfied with my overall play.  In the 4th round, we played the team Nobody :) , and I was White against Robert M Perez, a talented junior on Board 1.

R4 : Akshat Chandra and Robert Perez

R4 : Akshat Chandra and Robert Perez

I made an inaccuracy early on, and was slightly worse after 20 moves.  Being worse as White after 20 moves is hardly ideal.  But Chess is not all about attacking and winning; you have to be good at defending worse positions as well.  I was able to do just that, and was expecting Robert to go for a Drawn rook endgame, when he suddenly took a daring risk trying to Win.  When the smoke cleared and we reached 40 moves, the first time control, I emerged with what was a probably winning Queen Endgame.  Nonetheless, I decided to Draw since that would end the match in our favor 2.5, irrespective of the outcome for the remaining game on Board 2.  Final score was 2.5 to 1.5.

Making such mistakes early on was not acceptable.  I needed to rectify that immediately, considering that I was going to play a stronger player on the final day.  

In Round 5, we were paired against Chess Kings & Queens 1 (GM Magesh’s Chess Academy). They’d the same 2197 team rating average as us.  On Board 1 I was playing  none other than GM Magesh Panchanathan (2557 FIDE).  In an exchange g3 Gruenfeld, GM Magesh decided to sharpen things up by playing 10.e4 !?.  So I was up a Pawn a few moves later, but my pieces weren’t that developed.  Some inaccuracies from Magesh’s side allowed me to consolidate, and I started to play for a Win.  But a really boneheaded 22nd move vaporized all the promising possibilities, and it was I who was now fighting for a Draw.  The critical line was 22.Bxb5, Bxa8, Rxa8, after which I thought my c2 Knight would be trapped; but it manages to wiggle out in all lines.  So in a span of 3 moves, I went from being a Pawn up and playing for a Win, to being a Pawn down and fighting for a Draw – Dang :) .

R5 : GM Magesh Panchanathan and Akshat Chandra

R5 : GM Magesh Panchanathan and Akshat Chandra

Magesh was down to only 2 minutes however, and we were still 14 moves away from the time control.  He played very accurately despite the time pressure, up until his 40th move.  At that point he played 40.Be2 allowing me to equalize immediately. Things were looking like an easy Draw now, when suddenly I blundered with 53.Ra5 ??. Ke5 kept things in balance, since after g4 I have Ra4 !, which is what I missed.  I was now losing by force, and was getting ready to resign, since I expected Magesh to play 60.Rb8.  But Magesh made the reflex 60.Rh6 ??, and after Rxb5!, I’m able to draw due to a stalemate trick if he takes on h5 !  We played a 2 vs 1 for some moves, which is an easy Draw, but I was down to my final minute.  On move 80, when I was down to only 26 seconds, the classy GM Magesh offered me a Draw, displaying great sportsmanship for what was technically a Drawn game.  That’s a real chess player right there.  You rock Magesh!  Like two gladiators, we fought to the end trying our best to Win, but eventually agreed to a Draw after ~6 1/2 hours.  The final team score was 3 to 1, in our favor.

Now going into the final round, there were only 2 teams at a full 5-0.  It was us, What does the GM Say?…, and last year’s winner Princeton A.  Due to my long game earlier, I had about 10 minutes to eat, relax and get ready for this crucial and decisive round.  I was to face Princeton University’s Board 1 Michael Lee (2388 FIDE), and I had a double-black.  Princeton A had a team average of about 2197, so we were evenly matched.  Michael chose an extremely strange opening line, deviating from his usual 1.c4.  After the center closed up, we began our flank operations with Michael advancing on the Kingside, while I tried opening things up on the Queenside.  An erroneous recapture by him on move 21, gave me an advantage which I didn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.  I missed ways to Win quicker which was disheartening since they weren’t so difficult.  But I still played accurately without giving the Princeton University star any chance to make amends.  I was still pretty happy to have gone 5/6  on Board 1 in the tournament against good opposition, despite making quite a few mistakes.

R6 : Michael Lee and Akshat Chandra

R6 : Michael Lee and Akshat Chandra

But winning my game was not enough,  On Board 2, Grant Xu beat the other experienced Princeton player Andrew Ng.  Unfortunately for us, winning on top 2 boards didn’t Win us the tournament.  This time our bottom two boards lost to Princeton University A.  So the match score was 2-2, a tie.  Princeton A and us, What does the GM say?, had tied for 1st place at 5.5/6 points each in the US Amateur Championship East – 2014.  We were joined by a veteran team On the Rohde Again, which had won their last round.  So this was a 3-way tie for first place.

On tie break, which added points from all matches, Princeton University A was awarded the title, and we were given the 2nd rank.  That was sad, since I felt that our team had a tougher path to tying for 1st as we beat Princeton’s strong top two Boards while they beat our lower two boards.  I would have preferred a US Championship or US Chess League style tie-break – a Blitz match, possibly starting at Board 1 or Board 4, and moving on to next player, till the final winner is left.  Ah well, such is life :) .  We took comfort that last year Champions Princeton University couldn’t beat us and that we’d almost turned the tables. I congratulate Princeton A on their win, and their historic back-to-back achievement.  Maybe we get to play for the National title, in case Princeton A is unable show up :) .  Perhaps one day I’ll go play alongside these smart players at their historic University since they’re not far from home.

Overall it was a fun experience, and I’m glad that we tied for 1st, and came 2nd on tiebreak, in what was an extremely strong team tournament. On all boards, our team members came through when it counted most.

Great job Grant, Sid and Jason!

I’d like to thank and appreciate the effort of the organizers to flawlessly host a tournament of this magnitude.

Who Dat tied for first?  What does the GM say,  That’s Who! ;)

Flanked by Twin Towers!  Siddharth Arun, Akshat Chandra, Grant Xu, after the final round. (Jason Tang had already left)

Flanked by Twin Towers!
Siddharth Arun, Akshat Chandra, Grant Xu, after the final round (Jason Tang had already left)

Meeting the Legend for the First Time

Akshat Chandra and Garry Kasparov 1

The Great Garry Kasparov with Akshat Chandra

On a recent January weekend, I attended the Kasparov Chess Foundation camp taught by Garry Kasparov himself !  As most of you would know, Garry was the 13th WCC, and previously held the record of the highest rating ever achieved (2851).  It was a tremendous privilege, and honor to actually see, and meet Garry in person!  When he walked into the training room, and I laid eyes on him for the first time, I felt an adrenaline rush through my body.  Garry radiated such a powerful aura!  I grinned in total awe, wondering if my eyes were betraying me.  Was I really seeing one of the greatest, if not the greatest, chess player of all time?  Well it was finally time to get down to business, and he began cracking down on all of our games.

It was incredible to see how sharp and astute he continues to remain in his calculation and understanding, despite being an inactive player.  I was so excited when it was my turn to present my games to him.  After asking about my background history, Garry was ready to roll, and so was I :) .  I absorbed each of Garry’s comments with the utmost reverence.  I felt this was chess knowledge and wisdom right in front of me.  I was not gonna let this opportunity just pass me by.  When I finished my presentation, I was so pumped up.  It was incredibly motivating listening to his ideas and thoughts on my game.

Akshat reviewing games with Garry Kasparov

Akshat Chandra reviewing his games with Garry Kasparov

On Sunday, we had a “Study Quiz,” moderated by Garry himself.  For those of you who don’t know what Studies are, they’re long forced sequences and usually impractical, which end in an elegant and beautiful manner.  They require the Solver to use what I call an “Counter-Intuitive Thought Process,” which basically means that the Solver has to think about non-intuitive moves :) .  I had never done this before, and apparently It helps in developing precision.  It took me a ridiculously long time solving these, as I wasn’t used to this method of thinking, and was only able to solve one such study out of four.  I’ve posted the solved one below.

It’s White to move.

If you think you’ve solved it, just write a comment and I’ll validate your response :) .

After the Studies, Garry was kind enough to sign my boards, and “My Great Predecessors” books (guess who the author was ;) ) as well!  Overall, it was a thrilling and satisfying weekend.  Meeting the legend has fueled me with more hunger to get better, and to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Kasparov himself.

Akshat Chandra and Garry Kasparov 3

 

Finding the path between Scylla and Charybdis
When Wins turn into Draws against the 2600s

Those 2600s. Those darn, wily, 2600s :) .  They’re always slipping out of my craftily woven webs, at the last possible moment.  They remind me of Scylla and Charybdis, ancient monsters in Greek mythology.  When passing through a strait, if ships drift too close to the port side, Scylla would feast on the ship and its crew.  If the ships steered off to the starboard side, they would fall prey to the massive whirlpool known as Charybdis.

The hydra-headed Scylla and the churning Charybis. Got to find that elusive path.

To put this analogy into chess context, 2600 GMs represent two dangers as well.  The first is that they can effortlessly demolish you given an opportunity.  The second is that they’re highly resistant and tenacious.  Even when we have an edge, they don’t go down.  So just like seafarers in our Greek mythology, when encountering Scylla and Charybdis, one has to find that narrow, near-elusive path through the middle that takes you to safety.  This mean perfect balance and perfect calculation.  On occasions, I’ve found the path, only to slip from a Winning position into a Draw when close to reaching the end.  Here are two encounters, with game notation.

New York International - Akshat Chandra Vs GM Sam Shankland

New York International – Akshat Chandra Vs GM Sam Shankland

In June 2013, I was paired with GM Sam Shankland in the NY International.  I had completely outplayed him the whole game, and had achieved an elementary 2 vs 1 rook endgame. Unfortunately, I managed to find the whole move which didn’t win. I played Ke5?? before realizing that g5 draws, since the pawn endgame after Re6, Rxe6, Kxe6, Kh7 is a dead draw.  Aargh!  Not again !  Just as I was close to the end, I let the 2600 GM slip away at the last second, after being in total control throughout.  Perhaps it was fatigue, but the one thing I learnt is that to beat the 2600′s you gotta play perfect throughout.  You don’t get points for playing great 99% of the game.  With all that being said, enjoy the game which has my annotation too.  More about the NY International tournament, including this game, can be learnt from my earlier report here.

Round 1 - Akshat Chandra Vs GM Sam Shankland

Round 1 – Akshat Chandra 2268 Vs GM Sam Shankland 2601

I wasn’t able to decipher my notation sheet after that, but I remember the position at the end.

Another encounter with a 2600 GM was at a tournament in Forni Di Sopra, Italy.  I was starting the tournament with a rating of 2154, and was set to play Spaniard GM Korneev Oleg (rated 2580 at the time) in the first round.  Suddenly, the pairings changed as we were about to sit down.  I was no longer playing GM Oleg.  I was playing Russian GM Pavel Tregubov (rated 2597 at the time, but we’ll just round up to 2600 :) .  His peak rating was 2658, so this guy was no joke :) .

Akshat Chandra Vs GM  Pavlov

Akshat Chandra Vs GM Pavel Tregubov

After my usual 1.e4, Pavel played the Paulsen Sicilian.  He made an inaccuracy early on, and suddenly I developed a serious advantage after playing 12.g4 !  His pieces were all tangled up with each other, and so I kept the pressure up with 16.f5.  I could tell that Pavel was psychologically rattled, since his legs were shaking, and his face was really red.  Pavel played 16.Rxc3, a typical Sicilian exchange sacrifice, but in this position it was just plain bad.  I think he missed my 19th move,Qd5.  After swapping queens, I was so sure that I was going to win.  The thought of messing up, didn’t even cross my mind.  As the game went on, I suddenly started to become doubtful.  We had reached 40 moves, and I still hadn’t won, in what had seemed like a fairly straightforward position.  I had brought my King over to the Queenside, strutting his majesty all the way to c6.  Pavel defended tenaciously, and was able to execute the correct idea of sacrificing his bishop for my a-pawn. Despite being a rook up, his 3 pawns were too much to deal with.  After 5 1/2 hours, I had to settle for a Draw.  The result was disheartening, since it had seemed like an easy win on move 19.  I learnt then, that there’s no such thing as an easy win against a 2600.  Well at least Christmas came early for Pavel.  More can be learnt from my earlier tournament posting.

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Akshat Chandra Vs GM Pavel Tregubov. A 5 1/2 hour game

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Reminiscing over the “Remi”
The Day it All Started

It’s January 14, 2010.  The weather is a bitter 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 Celsius) , with frosty winds gnawing at my face.  Wearing my Choppers beanie, I enter the venue of my first GM Open tournament as a rated player.  The 2010 edition of the annual Delhi GM Open (Parsvnath) tournament held in New Delhi, India.  It was one of the strongest tournaments in the country.  I was 10-years old and had shown up at the venue with my newly minted FIDE rating of 1548.  There was a huge crowd in-front of the bulletin board with the Starting List.  My father accompanied me to scour the tournament sheets to confirm my name and starting rank.  As my father started going down the list, I suggested it might be faster if he started from the bottom of the list and went up.  I was right.  We found my name at # 265 out of 378 players.  A looong way to go I thought!  On the next set of sheets, I found my pairing.

I was paired with International Master (IM) Boris Arkhangelsky from Russia, who was rated 2291 (FIDE) at the time.  An adrenaline rush passed through me.  Here I was with the chance to play an IM, a god-like status for me at the time.  An auspicious beginning to my chess journey, I thought.  I found my table in the cavernous auditorium, carefully laid my 2 cushions down, one on the seat to gain elevation and one at the back to keep me from sinking back, and took my seat at table #71. Jittery with excitement and anxiety, I fill out my notation sheet.  A few minutes later, Boris took his seat across the table and began filling out his sheet.  When he finished, I offered him a handshake, smiling awkwardly, in total awe.

Akshat Chandra playing IM Boris Arkhangelsky - Jan 2010

 Akshat Chandra playing his 1st game as a Rated player at a GM Open with Russian IM Boris Arkhangelsky – Jan 2010

The game begins and Boris plays 1.c4, the English Opening.  My mind began racing with so many thoughts like cars on a 6-lane highway – “Why didn’t he do 1.e4, I had a clever idea for him in mind!  He’s avoiding 1.e4!  How does he know, that I don’t know how to play against c4! Hey, that’s the move the GM did against me in a simul recently.  Did Boris consult with the GM on how to beat me! After calming down , and remembering that he doesn’t need a GM to beat a stinkin’ 1548 :) , I responded, as I did with the GM in the simul, by playing 1.e6.  Boris employed an unusual setup.  Something different from what the GM did, a huge relief, reassuring me that they hadn’t consulted :)  As the game teeters on, it arrives at a point where my heart begins to pound vociferously.  It reminded me of the animation character Jerry when he stands in a corner his heart pounding out, after a chase by Tom.  Hope creeps into me, as I realize that I was about to win Boris’ weak pawn on d5.  This is it I thought.  I was now in a position to beat the IM.  I spent the next 5 minutes on a spree of gleeful fantasies of what it would mean should I win.  I could see history being written with my name in bold.

Thump!!  The sound of Boris thumping the clock brought me back from FantasyLand, and reverted my focus to the board.  Stop thinking about the rewards, I told myself.  Just think about how you can beat this guy. Just find a way. I decided it was safe to take another pawn, and played 33.Bxb3.  I was now two pawns up, but was significantly behind on the clock.  I only had 4 minutes left to Boris’ 29 minutes.  There was a 30 second increment after each move, but that doesn’t help too much in the situation I was encountering.  After a few simplifications, I emerged with two connected passed pawns!  We call this “Paradise” in English :) .  I rolled them down the board, expecting to Win any moment.  Each square forward increasing the drumbeat in my head to a crescendo.  That’s when “THE WORD” came on the 47th move. “Edemee,” Boris said politely, before he pressed his clock.

I looked at him funny, wondering what the heck did “Edemee” mean.  Was it a decoy to mess with my mind and get me further into time trouble.  Maybe it was some top secret Russian code word.  I disregarded it, and went from quizzically looking at his face to the Board, and continued with 47.b2.  My pawn was just one square away from Queening, and the win appeared inevitable.  But, let’s not forget that I’m an inexperienced 1548 who swims in illusions of grandeur during his games :) .  Boris decided to sacrifice a piece to stop the two pawns, the best practical try.  Once again he says “Edemee,” after which I came to the conclusion that he was off his rocket :) .

I was now a piece up, but had to be careful of his outside passed Pawn.  Today, I would win that position with ease.  But at that time, winning the position was like undertaking Atlas’ duty of bearing the weight of the sky. It seemed almost impossible.  My eyes narrowed and darted across the board, scouring every inch to make sure that I deny him the slightest counterplay.  I took his Pawn on h6, after which he played Kg2.  Two moves later, he played 55.Qa3.  The position is still easily winning for me, if I was to play 55.Bf8.  But psychologically the Qa3 move unraveled me.  With my time into seconds now, I chickened-out and offered a Draw.  Boris looked up and said “Edemee!”  So that’s what that “Edemee” was all about, I thought.  Boris had been offering a Draw to me earlier, I figured.

I nodded my head, and Boris gladly accepted my Draw offer.  I had mixed feelings after the game.  One side of me was elated at Drawing against an IM.  But another side was disappointed that I was completely winning when I took a Draw.

When I made up my mind in 2009 that I wanted to be really good at the game, we got ourselves a professional coach in early Fall (Autumn) of 2009, instead of learning by playing around with unrated or low-rated players.  But that day, January 14, 2010, was the day which got the ball rolling for me and firmed up my quest.  The dice had been thrown, and I knew that day I wanted to become a GM.  There was a fiery passion that was born.  If I can handle a veteran IM in my first game, then I was good enough to dream of being a strong GM.  That process is still ongoing :)

The “Edemee” story didn’t end  there.  Let’s fast forward now, to May 20, 2012.  I’m playing the Salento Open, in Gallipoli on the southern tip of Italy.  My opponent is IM Mario Lanzani, and 12 moves into our game he says, “I offer you a Remi.”  Instantly, my mind raced back in time to the day I played Boris.  I then realized that Boris had been saying “Remi” not “Edemee!”  Although to me at that time, Remi (a Polish word) was just as strange a word as Edemee!  I smiled at the memory, which had set my chess journey in motion and entwined my fate with chess forever.

Chess in Michigan – October 2013

The final tournament in my 3-tournament October Series was the Annual Fall Chess Festival in Dearborn, Michigan.  After a sub-par performance in my previous two tournaments , I was hoping to salvage something from the third tournament.  After two days of rest between tournaments, I was back on the road again, this time with my Mom.  We landed in Detroit at 3 pm EST.  We were picked up by the organizers, and had the honor of sharing the car with the top seed of the event – GM Timur Gareev (2676 Fide, 2768 USCF!).  Timur was a very lively and amiable person to converse with.  Known for his exemplary blindfold chess skills, Timur is planning to break the blind chess simul world record of 64 boards.  For all I know, he’s probably done it already :)

About 20 minutes later we pulled-up at the venue, Adoba Hotel.   There were 61 players competing in the Norm Section, with 15 GM’s, and 10 IM’s ( including me :).   In the first round, I was paired with an unrated local boy Ricky Reid.  I won pretty smoothly, although Ricky did defend tenaciously when he got into a worse position.  In the next round, I was paired with GM Aleksandr Lenderman (2539 FIDE).  He had got the better of me at the Continental Class tournament a few weeks ago.  So I was determined to make amends.  My only problem was that I was unfit.  When I woke up that morning I felt really enervated and physically battered.  Don’t know why.  Perhaps the below freezing temperatures got to me.  There was really nothing to do other then take medicines and tough it out.  I was playing the White pieces.  Lenderman played a Carokann, and it was more or less equal until I got overoptimistic and fell into an inferior position.  A pretty silly thing to do, considering I wasn’t in peak physical state.  I was now playing for a Draw, and made some waiting moves to get closer to the time control.  When GM Lenderman played a5, I spent 5 of my remaining 6 minutes to play a4!  The move seriously compromises the dark squares for me, but Black still has no clear way to breakthrough.  The GM continued to try and improve his position, while I just waited and played accurately.  Right before the timecontrol, he erred with Kf8 ?  I was able to win the exchange, but I had to be careful of his Queen-Bishop tandem posing threats to my King.  With less than 30 seconds on the clock, I played Qd3?!  I had a better option which would’ve given me decent chances to win.  GM Lenderman then found the correct Drawing maneuver Qb2-Qf2 , after which I couldn’t avoid a Perpetual from him.  In a way, I was both relieved and satisfied to Draw considering I was in a worse position at one point, as well as not in peak condition.

After returning to the hotel, I slept to revive myself and gain back some energy.  Not a bad idea :) When I awoke, I found out I was paired with GM Ben Finegold (2483 FIDE) for the evening round. While scanning through his games, I noticed he has a tendency to play wild and crazy positions.  So I spent most of my prep on some irregular stuff he plays.  When the round started, and the clock was pressed, GM Finegold opened with d4, nf6, c4!?!?!?!.  I was shocked that he was going for main-line theory.  I went for a Nimzo, and GM Finegold played 4.Qc2, followed by 5.Nf3.  I didn’t really know too much about the line, so I just played natural moves, and equalized pretty easily.  That’s where … the boredom set in :)  The position was unbelievably dull and monotonous.  I was hopefully expecting a Draw offer after every move he played … which unfortunately didn’t happen :(.  Just my darn luck, GM Finegold decided to open things up with e5 later, and I made possibly the worst positional move of all time with d5 ???.  I was passive and stuck with a terrible Bishop afterwards, and it didn’t take long for Ben to win.  Instead after e5, dxe5 ! would maintain equality.  It sucked losing in such an even position.  Maybe it wasn’t my fault though, since Ben said he snuck a piece of mine off the board :)  After the long walk back to the hotel, about 3/4 mile away from venue, I immediately fell asleep since I was physically and mentally exhausted.

Next morning, I woke up feeling much better and ready to play.  I wanted to get back into action.  You know that feeling.  I was finally feeling 100%, and was ready to bring out my lightning bolt :).  I was paired with FM Kostya Kavutskiy (2272 FIDE), to whom I’d lost to in the Spice Cup a few days prior to this tournament.  I was definitely hoping for a better result this time.  He played the Archangelsky variation of the Ruy Lopez, and I chose a rather quiet line, which probably isn’t the best, but people don’t seem to know it and fall into trouble quickly.  But just my darn luck again!  FM Kavutskiy seemed to know it like the back of his hand, and blitzed out his next 4-5 moves.  Now I had to replan.  After a few maneuvers and exchanges, I managed to fix his Pawn on a6. That was really the only hope for me to Win in the position.  And I really wanted to Win!  Draws are second rate results anyhow, but I must admit many a times still better than a stick in the eye :-).  The only thing I had to worry about was the safety of my King.  FM Kavutskiy played Rb2, a good move, taking advantage of my weak second rank.  I offered an exchange of Rooks, which he accepted.  Thereafter, the FM placed his other Rook on b2.  I followed up with Kg1, after which he played Re2, Qc1, Rxe3 ??.  I simply played Kf2, after which FM Kavutskiy was forced to give up the exchange, allowing me to Win smoothly.  Boy, that felt like a warm breeze on a freezing Michigan morning!

So at this stage, I was 2.5/4, and in the thick of a group of strong titled players.  In Round 5, I was paired with IM Leonid Gerzhoy (2478 FIDE).  I had lost to IM Gerzhoy at the Continental Class tourney about 10 days prior, clearly missing a chance to take the upper hand, and had Drawn with him at the NY International, where I blew a +% advantage.  I had been outplaying IM Gerzhoy, but not getting the result I wanted.  This time I was determined not to give any more gifts to him.  It was a mainline Bc4 Gruenfeld, in which I deviated from the Karpov-Kasparov games where Black would go Bg4 f3,Na5.  He wasn’t familiar with the variation, and misplayed his subsequent moves.  I felt really comfortable my position, after Leonid decided to sac a pawn for Kingside counterplay. Unfortunately … another gift came his way.  After messing up the move order, I simply collapsed.  I went from -0.24 to +8 for him in a span of 8 moves. No win this time too, after gaining a slightly upper hand.  This game was a real blow, considering my position. The walk back to hotel didn’t help either, as the weather was 32F, with a windchill of 25F.  Cabs had a 30-minute wait, and I just wanted to get back to my room.  My hands and mouth numbed fast, and the frosty howling wind was bitter on the face. Toss that in with a Loss from an even position, and you’ve got yourself in a pathetic predicament :).

I was anxious that night, hoping that I would get a good player next morning, preferably higher rated. Well I got what I wanted, as I was paired with  FM Steven Winer (2403 FIDE).  It was a Siclian Najdorf, and we castled opposite.  This basically guaranteed that someone’s gonna get their king blown off the board, and I had to make sure it wasn’t mine:).  Good thing for me that my King was the one left standing at the end, as I turned in a complete game, winning crisply on the Kingside.  This game set the tone for the rest of the tournament, and allowed me to finish strong.  In the sprint to the end, I Drew with IM Keaton Kiewra (2404 Fide), although once again I was winning before going full crazy mode;  beat IM Kannappan Priyadharshan (2425 Fide), and Drew with GM Bartlomiej Macieja (2586 FIDE) in the final round.  So 3/4 points in the final rounds got me to a total score of 6/9, which was good enough for the 2nd spot in the U2400 category, worth $250.  I gained over +28 valuable FIDE rating points.  For me this was a good tournament , and finally the pumpkin smiled late in October, as I finished the 3 almost back-to-back tourneys.

World Chess Championship 2013 – A New Era Begins

As most of you know, the World Chess Championship match between Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand and Magnus Carlsen came to an end 3 days ago.  Anand, the defending champ, ultimately proved to be no match for  Carlsen, the Norweigian phenom, who won 6.5-3.5, a staggering margin of 3 points. I guess the suprising part is not the fact that Magnus won, but how he won.

The first 2 games were quick Draws, with both players getting a feel for the opponent’s preparation.  The next two game’s were much more exciting, with Vishy coming close to a win in the 3rd one and Magnus coming close to a Win in the 4th. The 5th game was an unsual Semi-Slav, and pretty soon an endgame was reached, which was slightly better for Carlsen.  Magnus pressed hard, trying to squeeze something out,  but Vishy defended accurately and a Draw seemed inevitable.  Suddenly on the 45th move, the World Champion blundered with Rc1+??.  Magnus was then able to simplify into a winning rook endgame, and Vishy resigned 8 moves later.  Blood had been spilled!

All eyes were now on Anand and how he would respond in Game 6 with the White pieces.  Vishy opened with 1.e4, and countered Magnus’s Berlin with 4.d3.  Carlsen’s play wasn’t accurate, but Vishy missed his chance to seize a decent advantage.  Soon, the World Champ began to go astray and Magnus was able to win a pawn, just as they reached the 40th move.  Anand defended well, and once again, things seemed headed towards a Draw.  But on the 60th move, the second time control, Vishy inexplicably played Ra4 ??, which sealed his fate.  Magnus created a passer pawn and won a few moves later.  I was astounded when I replayed the game and saw the move Ra4.  The move had no purpose and basically gives a free move to Black.  Vishy was never able to recover from these two devastating losses, and Magnus went on to secure the match in convincing fashion, winning one more game in the process.

Thus, a new era started with Magnus Carlsen becoming the 16th World Champion, at 22 years, 11 months, and 358 days.   Carlsen’s reign as a world champion has now begun …

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Here’s my earlier posted Game 5 recap in a bit more detail.

As most of you chess aficionados know, the World Chess Champion is currently underway in Chennai, India. The current World Champion Vishy Anand, looks to defend his title against Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen. The first two games were quick lifeless draws, finishing  about an hour. The last 3 Games however were a treat for the specatators, and provided some entertainment. In Game 3, Vishy came very close to achieving a winning advantage, however a premature simplification on his side steered the game to a draw. In Game 4, Magnus employed the solid Berlin Wall against Vishy’s Ruy Lopez. This time it was the World Champ who went astray, and Magnus managed to win a pawn shortly after. A magnificent battle followed  with Carlsen arduously pressing for the win, and Vishy valiantly defending for a draw. After a grueling 6 hours, the game ended in a draw. Game 5, which finished 4 hours ago, saw Carlsen with the White pieces. After Vishy’s 3.c6, Carlsen went for 4.e4 !? which channeled the game into calmer, but uncharted waters. Inaccurate play by Anand allowed Carlsen to simplify into a slightly better endgame. These are the types of positions Carlsen thrives in – a small but nagging advantage in which he can torture and press the opponent as long as he wants with no risks for himself whatsoever. But Vishy defended precisely and so things appeared headed for another draw. However 6 moves after reaching the timecontrol, Vishy played 45.Rc1+, a fatal error- 45.Ra1 was the drawing move. Magnus swiftly capitalized on the error, and traded down to a winning Rook Endgame. He cashed in on the full point 7 moves later. A rejuvenating result for Carlsen, but a demoralizing one for Anand. Tomorrow Anand takes on the White pieces and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds.

On a side note, it was refreshing to see Indian chess fans acknowledge the presence of Garry Kasparov, a true chess legend and former World Champion who visited Chennai , while the officials unfortunately failed to do so.

Spice Cup 2013

Have you ever met a chess legend?  How about playing in a chess legend’s tournament? Well, that’s exactly what I was able to do, by playing in this year’s Spice Cup in St. Louis, organized and hosted by none other then the fabled Susan Polgar.  As most of you would know, Susan was the first woman to achieve the title of GrandMaster, in the year 1991.  She went on to become the reigning World Champion, from the years 1996-1999.  So it truly was an honor to be able to meet her , and participate in her tournament. The Spice Cup was to be the second tournament  of my October series, after the Continental Chess tournament in Crystal City, Virginia.  

Akshat Chandra with Susan Polgar - receiving the co-winner U2400 prize at The Spice Cup - Oct 2013

Akshat Chandra with Susan Polgar – receiving the co-winner U2400 prize at
The Spice Cup – Oct 2013

Sorry for the brief writeup, but the lengthy writeup I’d done got deleted. It’s a pain to try and recreate everything :)

Losing & Winning the North American Youth Chess Championship

The North American Youth Chess Championship 2013

The North American Youth Chess Championship 2013

After coming home from the the Washington International Chess tournament, I was headed out again a couple of days later.  This time it was to Toronto for the North American Youth Chess Championship from Aug 14 to 18.  Normally I wouldn’t play these type of “Continental Youths,” for there is a significant rating risk as most players are lower-rated.  Consequently there is a higher level of stress round-after-round, all for not that much a significant enough Chess title or prize.  But this time, Canadian organizer Francis Rodriguez and his team were able to convince FIDE to award an International Master (IM) Chess title to the winner of the top age group U18 section – a grand prize.  That’s a highly coveted Chess title, and it got my attention :)  There were many other Chess norm prizes and other titles sprinkled too for various categories.  But the IM title was the biggest.  So this North American Youth changed from being just another event to something special.  And I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  You should’ve seen the entry list balloon, within a matter of a few days of this announcement.  Kudos to the organizers to get FIDE to approve the Chess titles and norms, and with over 350 players in various sections, this was I believe the largest North American Youth Chess Championship ever.

My support team and I (Dad and brother this time, since my mother had to leave in the midst of the Washington International for a family emergency to travel to India) took the noon flight from Newark on Porter Airlines, which arrived at around 2 pm in Toronto.  The round was at 7pm, later that Wednesday.  A slight digression here – I’d just like to say, that Porter may as well be the best airlines I’ve ever traveled on!  They have a lounge at each of their terminals with free WiFi, complimentary refreshments, and a  meal onboard :)   How great is that!  As the plane approached it’s landing, I marveled at a beautiful island and the azure waters surrounding the Billy Bishop Airport.

Toronto

Toronto – a short ferry ride from city airport to mainland

Once we landed at the Toronto city airport on a clear, bright day, we took the ferry to reach the mainland and then made our way to downtown Toronto to finally reach our destination – the playing venue and hotel, “Chestnut Residence.”  When I arrived at the Hotel, I figured I can rest for a couple of hours for the evening round.  But that was not to be.  After standing in line for about 30 minutes at the busy front-desk, we got a room which was not even cleaned after the last occupants.  We trooped back downstairs, and were given another room 15 minutes later.  We gingerly entered the room, and it all looked fine.  A few minutes later, the bathroom started overflowing .  We also realized that one of the main lights in the bedroom wasn’t working, and so in the evening the room will be half-dark.  This was upsetting.  We called up front-desk, and they offered to send a maintenance person right away instead of exchanging rooms.  Well, 30 minutes later the person showed up.  He fixed the bathroom, but fixing the light fixture was a different story.  It required all kinds of wire changes and nearly an hour to fix.  It was almost 6:30 pm now.  Dismissing thoughts of a rest, I headed downstairs for the tournament.

The Tournament Hall with various age group sections

The Tournament Hall with various age group sections

The place reminded me of the SuperNational’s playing hall, which brought back pleasant memories.  In the first round, I was Black, playing David Itkin (2021 FIDE) from Canada.  Emerging from the opening with a time advantage, I aimed to build on that with some board advantage as well :).  David decided to sacrifice a pawn, but it wasn’t very effective.  All I had to do was consolidate and be careful of any Kingside tricks.  I played Qxa2 and as I wrote down my move it hit me that I had blundered.  I tried to put on a poker face, but the winning move was too obvious.  Surely enough he played Bc5, the decisive blow.  Panic overtook me.  I had set out with high hopes to win something special, and here I was struggling with someone rated 300 points below me.  I played on, but the final result was inevitable from that point on.  1-0 for him.  I had started off with  0/1.  It was shocking.

There was no room for error now.  I figured a winning score for the Title would be 7.5/9.  Well, I’d just made my job a lot harder.  I’d now have to score at least 7.5 out of the last 8 rounds if I wanted to have a shot at the title.

As we got back to our room after dinner, we began to notice a tremor in the room and a whooshing sound.  It was perplexing.  Then we figured it out.  Our room was right behind the entire bank of elevators.  There were three elevators whooshing up and down the shaft right behind our room wall.   This was so annoying and distracting.  But we had no choice.  We spent the night in discomfort, and I can tell you that Chestnut Residence is a busy place; for those elevators were going about their business all night.  Whoosh!

Next morning on Thursday, Day 2,  I won my second round with Aquino Inigo (2030 FIDE).   Whew!  It felt reassuring to know that I can win.  I headed back to the room.  My family had already switched rooms and this one was to the side of the elevator bank.  So still some noise, but not the ruckus from the night before.

In the afternoon round I was paired with Olivier Kenta (2127 FIDE).  There was a point in the game where I avoided trades as I felt it would decrease my winning chances.  I opted for something inferior instead, but was unable to come up with a constructive plan afterwards.  Olivier’s h-pawn attack was powerful, and after some nonsensical moves from my side, I was forced to resign.  I was shocked and devastated.  I’d been completely swept off the board.  The hope of winning the U-18 title and becoming an IM was dashed and I was now struggling to stay above 2300 FIDE rating, having lost a sizable 24 points after three rounds.   The online broadcast by Monroi got the board and result wrong, and showed me winning.  It was quite a shock to my family when they learnt that the outcome was painfully different than what was being shown on Monroi.

Time stood still.  I was completely torn apart, and in mental anguish.  The constant thought of my failure swirled through my head and was an agonizing dose of reality.  I couldn’t turn away from it.  I was living the misery.  I couldn’t believe I was bowing out so tamely from the quest for the Title.  Without a whimper!  The typical instinctive thoughts of Fight or Flee flooded through my mind.  Since there was not much to play for now, my father started making backup plans in case we choose to withdraw.  The airlines, the hotel, the tournament organizers, all had to be coordinated and approved.  It was possible to withdraw without breaking the bank.

The decision was now mine.  This was a hard one.  My uninspired performance so far only suggested that I will end up losing more FIDE rating points.  At the same time, I had come to play for the Title and it was hard to pull away even if the hopes of winning it had experienced an untimely end.  If I left, the door would be closed.  If I continued, I could try to earn back some of the FIDE points.  But most important, I had to learn to play through a tournament even in psychologically the most adverse circumstances.  An inner voice told me I should finish the tournament.   Hope continued to linger in the darkest moments.  For me, I had to salvage some pride, and if possible  rating points.  But most important I’d to try till the end.  I had to learn to hold my ground and make the best of the worst situation.

Once I decided to see this through, there wasn’t much to do in the room.  Although our room had troubles with the elevators, it had a great view of downtown Toronto.  From our room, we would watch the fountain square with its own concert stage and pretty buildings all around.  We decided to go for a walk to the lively centro.  The experience was enjoyable and at least I forgot about my troubles for some time.  My brother was out to have some fun, and he kept me entertained.

Day 2 evening - My brother was enjoying the time out, and I was beginning to relax

Day 2 evening – My brother was enjoying the time out, and I was beginning to relax.  Akshat and Aditya Chandra.

Day 2 - As the evening wore on, the smile begin to appear

Day 2 – As the evening wore on, the smile begin to appear.  Aditya ‘Addy’ and Akshat ‘Aksh’

Upon returning back to the room, doubts crept back into my mind if I’d made the right decision.  But it was too late for that.  It had all become fairly straight forward for me.  I now had to go into each round knowing that I had to Win.  There was no Draw option for me anymore.  The tournament outcome was no longer in my control.  I’d dug myself into a nice hole.

After a restless night, it was on to Friday, Day 3 of the tournament.  I managed to notch up 2 wins against Canadians, Guangyu Song (unrated) and Mike Ivanov (2080 FIDE) on Day 3.  This was my first day without a loss.  The wins put me at 3/5, a full 1.5 points behind the leaders.  After rounds in the afternoon and evening, we went out for a long walk to the fountain square.  It became a ritual and we looked forward to the exercise.  It was easier today walking around and not thinking about Chess.

Day 3 - The world felt a little better1

Day 3 – The world felt a little better!

On to the penultimate day, Saturday, Day 4.  The Round 6 was at 10am in the morning.  I was playing White and paired with Nikita Kraiouchkine (2234 FIDE).  It was more or less equal until he made a tactical blunder, allowing me to win two minor pieces for a rook.  The win however was far from easy.  After a  few imprecise moves from my side, all the winning chances evaporated.  I was forced to trade into a drawn endgame.  There’s no way I can win now I thought.  But luck was on my side and Nikita erred.  I managed to capitalize on his small mistake and finished the game with a Win!

With three more rounds to go, Justus Williams was leading at this stage with 5.5/6, followed by Jarod Pamatmat (5), and Awonder Liang (5).  Following them was a cluster of players on 4 points, including me.  In the afternoon 7th round at 3pm, I got a double-white and was playing Joshua Colas (2206 FIDE) who had just come off a tough loss to Justus from a superior and most likely winning position.  I found myself forced to go for simplifications and a Draw was inevitable.  We reached the following Rook endgame: White: b5,Rf4,Kd3. Black: b7,d4,Kg7.  Joshua’s King was cut off, so I had some hope.  If Joshua had played the simple Rf7!, it would be impossible to win.  But he played Rc7 ?!, Kxd4, Kg6 ??.  I was able then to win his b7 pawn and create the neccessary “Lucena.”  This was unbelievable!  Two dead drawn games, and I’d managed to win to keep myself in the mix!  Howsoever feeble the hopes were for a Title, I couldn’t have done anything more.  Hope was being faintly rekindled.  The tournament outcome was still not in my control.  I just had to focus on my game, and find Wins.

Day 4 - The evening walk!  The lights were green, but could I go all the way on the Final Day!

Day 4 – The evening walk before the last day.  The lights were green, but could I go all the way on the Final Day!  

The final day had approached.  It was Day 5.  The Sunday morning round was starting earlier at 8:30am.  Justus Williams was storming ahead with 6.5/7, a full 1.5 points ahead of  Jarod Pamatmat, Razvan Preotu, Awonder Liang and me.  I’d moved into the second ranked group, but still 1 1/2 points separated this group from the leader.  There were 2 rounds on the final day, and so 2 full points on the table to work for.  All Justus needed was 1 more point on the last day, to seal the victory.

I was playing Black against Jarod Pamatmat in R8.  Our previous encounter was at the US Junior Open qualifier, where I bungled a completely winning positon (+10) and ended up losing.  It was time to not repeat careless mistakes and to even things up!   Jarod sacrificed a pawn, which sharpened up the game.  Good, I thought. The more complications, the better for me. The last thing I wanted was simplifications. I managed to fend off the attack and transition to a winning endgame.  Despite having only a minute on my clock while Jarod had 3 minutes, I converted the position to a Win without any problems.  No late mess up against Jarod this time.  In the U18 section, ours was the last game of Round 8, and it carried on long till close to 1pm, when the final round was to start.  Meanwhile on Board 1, Justus had earlier Drawn with Canadian Razvan.  So Jusus had collected 1/2 point and still needed another 1/2 point for the Title.   I was now in sole second, a point behind Justus, and the only one in a position to play the leader in the final round.

The final game acquired new meaning for me.  For the first time since the tournament began, things were in my hands too.  Lucky for me, the first tiebreak was a Direct or “head-to-head ” encounter.  This meant if I beat Justus, I would win the tournament due to having a better direct encounter score!  For all other outcomes, Justus would win.  A Win would get me the Title.  If Justus Won or Drew, he would win the title.  It reminded me of the SuperNationals final game, although there I was in Justus’ position, and needed just a Draw to win the title.

Going into that final afternoon game I was facing a lot of emotions, I was anxious, but hopeful and excited at the same time!  But there was a sense of calmness in all this too.  For I reminded myself that this is what I had yearned for – a chance to play the leader.  And after an absolutely disheartening start to the tournament,  I’d won 5 straight games to earn the right to play for Title in the final round.   Can I make it 6 games in a row?

There was a lot of interest in our game, since it was one of us who would win the Title.  For all the buildup, it was a fairly undramatic game.  The game was more or less equal until Justus played Nb4 ?.  I saw the winning series of moves and felt a rush of adrenaline.  Justus had missed that after he plays Nd3, I have Bc1! which wins on the spot.  Shortly, he was forced to resign.  It was a quick game.  I felt sorry for Justus for he had played well and steady in the tournament.  I was happy he still got his IM norm and an FM title.  Well, as for me,  I was in a trance!  I’d just stormed back from 1 out of 3, to win the tournament with 7 out of 9!  I had walked in a Fide Master (FM).  And I was going to walk out an International Master (IM).  The chief organizer, Francis Rodriguez, immediately congratulated me and let me know that I was an IM now :)  That was sheer joy!  I couldn’t wait to share the news with my father and brother.  Francis walked me out and told my father that I’m an IM now and the North American Youth Champion in U18 section.  Thanks Francis, for your compliments and a wonderfully conducted tournament!  For me, this tournament was a miracle.  I didn’t throw in the towel after R3.  I persisted even though hope had flickered away, and fought for whatever little there was left to fight for.  So my fellow players, “It ain’t over, till the fat lady sings. ” :)

I don’t know what worked for me from Day 3 onwards.  I don’t even know if I can replicate it.  All I know was that I didn’t wish to Abort and Return.  I wanted to Play on.  You can call it grit or determination or even fool’s luck.  At that time, it was just doing what I love to do – play chess and get through the day without hurting myself.  Maybe that’s how champions are made.  But whatever the decision in such hard situations, it has to be yours.  Often times you’ve to just follow your heart, even when the mind calculates it’s a risky proposition with no rewards.  It’s just the love of the game that keeps us coming back to the board, for there doesn’t appear to be much else there.  If I was logical on Day 2, I would have been heading home.

After the round, we went to the top of the hotel building to the viewing gallery.  With a beautiful backdrop of Toronto, for the first time in many days I smiled without a care and took a swig of Coca Cola.  Boy, did it taste real sweet :)

Finally, I could breathe easy!  Mission Accomplished!

Finally, I could breathe easy!  Mission Accomplished!

Enjoy the pictures of the tournament, and the beautiful city of Toronto!  There are no pictures of the actual chess rounds, but pictures of the numbing Day 2 and subsequent days.  My face on different days, tells the entire story.  On Wednesday, October 02, 2013, FIDE changed my title on their official site to International Master.  It’s now IM Akshat Chandra.  But you can still call me Akshat :)

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Being handed the trophy by the Canadian Chess Federation executive.

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With organizer Francis Rodriguez, kudos to him for a great event !

On the subway ride back to the airport

On the subway ride back to the airport

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The view of the centro from the hotel room

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The centro at night time.

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The refs in a huddle :)  (from official site)

Goodbye Toronto!

Goodbye Toronto!

Quebec Chess Championship 2013
A Beautiful Setting

Quebec Championship 2013

Quebec Chess Championship 2013 – A Beautiful Setting

I feel compelled to write about my experience at the Quebec Chess Championship, as I wish to share with other Chess Players that things aren’t always “up and up” in our chess journey.  There are inevitable “Downs” too that accompany the “Ups,” and this chess tournament was certainly one of those.  It happens to everyone, and one has to just keep going.

The Quebec Championship was held July 21 to July 28, 2013 in the city of Montreal.   The round schedule was very easy paced with 7 of 9 rounds over single days.  This definitely increases the quality of the game, and is easier on the mind.  However, the tournament can take much longer to finish, particularly if things are not going your way.  The venue was the beautiful old Brebeuf’s Chapel at the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montréal.  The tournament pace, setting, and the organization were excellent, and my compliments to the organizers for creating a great environment to compete for Title Norms and Rating Points.  I would definitely recommend this tournament to players from US.

Arriving at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montréal - Akshat Chandra

Arriving at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montréal after a 8 hour train ride – Akshat Chandra. Some of you may have noticed I had gotten a haircut :)

Playing Hall - Chapel

A Classic Playing Hall –  Brebeuf’s Chapel on campus

This was the first time I played in Canada.  We were staying at the College itself.  It was a good idea due to the proximity of the playing hall.  But unfortunately, there was this atypical heat wave and the dorm rooms weren’t air-conditioned.  Worst still, there were no fans since Montreal is fairly temperate.  After two restless nights of bearing these hot conditions, we requested organizers Felix and Richard to help.  The next day Felix got us two fans from his home.  That helped tremendously.  I wish we would have asked earlier :)

The round information was all listed on Chess-results.com, which was very helpful.  This is standard practice in Europe and Asia as well, and I wish more US tournaments are listed on Chess-results.  I started off with a victory over Canadian player Kevin Wan (2006 FIDE).  But things were just a struggle after that.   My next game with GM Thomas Roussel Roozman was a bad one from my side.  I failed to play energetically and got into a hopeless, passive endgame.

Round 1 - Akshat Chandra Vs Kevin Wan

Round 1 – Akshat Chandra Vs Kevin Wan

The next round with FM Masse Hughes (2193 FIDE) was unspectacular from my standpoint, as I Drew.  But it was the longest game of my 4-year Chess career and it lasted 6 hours and 40 minutes.  The last half hour was just me pushing in a Rook + Knight vs Rook endgame, refusing to Draw.  At times frustration makes you stubborn.

My Longest Game - 6 pm to 12:40am - Akshat Chandra, and a patient Arbiter Danny Goldenberg

My Longest Chess Game – 6 hours and 40 minutes from 6 pm to 12:40am – Akshat Chandra, Masse Hughes and our patient Arbiter Danny Goldenberg (pictures were not allowed from any closer in order to avoid disturbing us)

In round 4 against Mackenzie Molner (2493Fide) , I hallucinated in an equal position and lost.  Yes, I hallucinated! I thought there wasn’t a pawn on this square , but turns out there was.  It totally disrupted my whole plan :D

Mackenzie Molinar Vs Akshat Chandra - Duelling it out.  Hic! Some hallucinations too :)

Mackenzie Molner Vs Akshat Chandra – Start of the Game.

Things weren’t so great from there onwards.  I started nursing a throat infection from Round 5.   The zinc lozenges and typical medicines were not helping.  I’d feel enervated after about 2 hours of play.  There was nothing to go on after 2 hours.

In Round 5, I played Villavieja Butch (2211 FIDE) from Phillipines.  I was lucky to do the damage in about 2 hours and won the game fairly quickly :)  In Round 6, I played a young Canadian talent, FM Preotu Razvan (2277 FIDE).  My play was weak from the beginning and at one point I thought I found an equalizing idea.  But I realized he had a refutation, and I sunk into deep thought.  I figured there was no other choice but to hope he didn’t see it.  Luckily he decided to go for material, after which I found a series of aesthetically pleasing defense moves :D.  Razvan didn’t want the Draw however, and embarked on a speculative exchange sac.  I now had some winning chances, but my 40th move was not the best. The position simplified and we Drew in the end.  Next two games were miserable and I lost to IM Arthur Calugar and Michael Song, missing a Draw in the former game and blowing a completely equal position in the latter one.  I had managed to score only 1 1/2 points from the last 4 rounds, and my energy level was ebbing.  Fortunately, the organizers had seen me taking medication and approved a medical exemption from playing the final round.  We left for New York on Saturday night itself, instead of Monday morning.

Akshat Chandra Vs Butch in Round 5 of Quebec Chess tournament

Akshat Chandra Vs Butch Villavieja in Round 5 of Quebec Chess tournament

The tournament was won by Cuban GM Bruzon Lazaro Batista (2698 FIDE).  Good for him!  I wish I could have done a lot better in a beautiful chess setting.  Well, I’ll have to wait for next time.

Since I wasn’t enjoying the tournament , I tried to enjoy the city.  Montreal has some nice architecture.  I found the people very polite and friendly.  So if you do have the time to attend this tournament next year, do give it a serious thought.  Well done, organizers!

Akshat at the College , Montreal, which was the Chess venue

Akshat at the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, which was the Chess venue

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R2 GM Roussel-Roozmon Thomas vs FM Akshat Chandra in Chess Round 2

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 R6 Razvan Preotu Vs Akshat Chandra in Chess. I came armed with a banana, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough :) A draw.

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Found these Chess Boards used in Canadian Chess tournaments really neat. These are high quality paper-printed disposable chess boards. Great for large tournaments in non-Open sections.  Don’t want to be slighting the GMs with these :)

The World Open 2013
A Bid to Sponsor My Quest Comes Short

The World Open is the richest prize money tournament in the US.  My focus has to be to climb the rating and norm charts and play the Open section, particularly since I had momentum coming off a strong performance at the New York International days earlier where I earned an IM Norm.  Playing a U2400 FIDE tournament held only rating risk for me since I would most likely be the highest FIDE rated player – which was eventually true.  But I got tempted at the opportunity of a guaranteed grand prize money of $9,000 or potentially higher for first place.  That would contribute a long way to funding my trip to perhaps Europe and/or World Youth in UAE or additional coaching. Finding sponsorship is very hard, as per my experience thus far.  So here was a chance now to do something on my own.  Norms will have to wait.  I had to raise some money, and I decided to play the U2400 section.

To make a long story short, I failed :( .

I still wanted to write about this tournament because often it’s easy to write about Successes, but not about our Failures or times when we come up empty-handed.  So I decided to write about two such recent tournaments – World Open and Quebec Open.  The road to success is paved with many failures.  I’m learning that failures are unavoidable.  They are very painful when they happen.  But they are making me stronger for the next time. Each failure brings me closer to success. When I look back, I find this quite true from my limited Chess experience over 4 1/2 years.  It’s okay to fail, but what’s important is to Learn and Move On!

As the great Michael Jordan once said , “Failure always made me try harder next time.  I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. ”

Now to make a short story long, here’s how it went :) .

We headed out to DC on July 7, the day of the tournament.  The tournament was being held at the Hyatt Regency, over a span of 5 days. Time Control for U2400 section was 115 min (5 sec delay) and an addition of 1 hour after 40 moves.  The first round was at 6pm, so there was plenty of time to relax.  I decided to use the time to sleep, since the round was late and I would need the energy to keep me going :).  I was playing Black, and paired with Denis Strenzwilk (1951 FIDE), an experienced veteran player.  I slowly but surely outplayed him, but then erred with a nonsensical Rook transfer.  Denis was able to exchange Rooks, after which winning seemed virtually impossible. I managed to get my King and Knight into their ideal positions, whereafter White blundered, allowing me to penetrate with my King.  Denis resigned shortly after.  The 2nd round had me paired with Chris Mabe (2250 FIDE) from North Carolina. He played a line which I was unfamiliar with, so I just played some common moves.  I misplayed the middlegame however, and his position became slightly better.  I was getting ready to offer a Draw, when suddenly Chris blundered !  I won a couple moves later.  I was 2/2 , but my play wasn’t convincing.  I played with IM Angelo Young (2315 FIDE) in the third round.  We were both out of theory from move 2 (!) and were spending a lot of time.  By move 25, I was down to 6 minutes, while he had 3.  It was more or less even, until he blundered with Ra1??, which I refuted with the tactical c4 !  I reached the time control an exchange up.  However Angelo still had a pretty obvious Draw.  He sunk into thought for 40 minutes, before playing b3 ??  From there on my technique was excellent and I managed to win the game.

3/3, so far so good I told myself.  Unfortunately , things were about to become far from good :(

Akshat Chandra and

R1 Denis Strenzwilk and Akshat Chandra

Akshat Chandra playing

R2 Akshat Chandra playing Chris Mabe

Akshat Chandra playing

R4 Akshat Chandra playing Iryna Zenyuk

I lost the next round to Iryna Zenyuk (2250 FIDE), won the next game with Osmekhian Innocent Omoifo (2180 FIDE), but then again suffered a setback by losing to Grant Xu (2125 FIDE).  Grant had even offered a Draw, but I thought I could tinker around with no real risks for a while,even though I had no real winning chances. I feel that as I mature as a chess player, I’ll be able to make better decisions in the future, such as  knowing when to Draw. I finished the tournament at 6.5/9, with an extremely lucky win in the last round against Andrew Tang (2150 FIDE).

I just wasn’t able to find my rhythm in this tournament. Perhaps it was the subconscious pressure of trying to win the first prize for my Quest.  Or it could be that I just couldn’t accept strategic Draws, for winning it all was important to me.   A mind is a funny thing.  The tapestry of the mind changes with each tournament.   I was really disappointed with the fact that I’d squandered a great opportunity to fund my dream.  But i’m not giving up on my Quest.  I will continue to look out for opportunities for chess funds and sponsorship.  After winning the K-9 US SuperNational Championship, I sent out sponsorship requests to a few places.  But there was no response. It’s not easy.  No wonder becoming a Champion is super hard and requires patience, focus, adaptability, grit and unrelenting hard work.  It’s true in Chess and in Life.

Catching an Apple at The New York International 2013 – my 1st IM Norm

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Coming to the Tournament :)  “Riding along in my automobile, …”

I was looking forward to the New York International, which was being held at the St. John’s University in downtown Manhattan and organized by the venerable Marshalls Club.  After a subpar performance at the US Junior Open a few days earlier, I was hoping to make amends and turn in a better performance.  The tournament location was rather convenient, as New York is right next door to New Jersey (where I live).  My Dad and I were commuting by train, and at least the first night it turned out to be a much more hectic endeavor then we had anticipated.  The playing hall at the University was nice and quiet.  There were about 65 players in the tournament, and I had a starting rank of 34.

New York International

New York International – Playing Venue

Akshat Chandra playing GM Sam Shankland at New York International

R1 – Akshat Chandra playing GM Sam Shankland at New York International

In the first round I got paired with a strong American Grandmaster Samuel Shankland, who had a FIDE rating of 2601!  I was playing White.  Sam played the Paulsen, but chose a dubious line.  I just played logical and simple moves, and pretty soon I was developing a serious advantage.  The Grandmaster was going to lose his d4 pawn, so he decided to sacrifice his g pawn instead.  I began carefully consolidating my advantage, trying not to blunder in the process.  I did miss a Win however during this phase, which was frustrating as it was pretty simple.  But as it turned out , this was just the beginning of a night filled with “Missed Wins” for me in this game. We traded down into a Rook endgame which was easily won for me.  After being unable to find a win on the Queenside, despite the fact there were several, I decided to just trade all the Pawns in the center and on the Queenside, and win on the Kingside with my two Pawn advantage.  A slight drawback was that my Pawns were doubled, but it was still winning. Just as I was about to finish off the game, I blundered horrendously with Ke5 ??.  That allowed Sam to play g5 and trade down to a drawn Philidor’s endgame.  I was bitterly disappointed as I had played a fantastic game and let it all go away with one move towards the end.

Akshat Chandra Vs GM Sam Shankland

Akshat Chandra Vs GM Sam Shankland

The game was ~ 5 hours long and finished just before midnight.  I was looking forward to some rest, but that was a long way off.  We missed the midnight train, and consequently some connections.  We took the Metro to Newark Penn station.  Unfortunately, since it was after midnight there were not many trains operating.  I found a bench and snuggled up on it, as we waited for the 1:40am train – the last train of the night.  By the time I got home, the clock needles were closing in on 3 am.  It was only 8 hours before the next round at 11am.

When I showed up to play in the second round against IM Leonid Gerzhoy (2469 Fide), I was half asleep and my eyes must’ve appeared bloodshot. I probably looked like I’d emerged from a horror movie :) .  I played a rare line in the opening, which surprised Leonid.  He didn’t find the best continuation, and I easily equalized.  Leonid then erred with g4?!, after which I missed the strong f5 !  I played Qg6 instead, which still allowed me to trade down into a better game.  Soon, I became a Pawn up and was playing for the win. He sacrificed another pawn, but that didn’t work out and I was just rolling my Pawns down the board on the Queen side.  However on the 36th move, 4 moves before the time control, I blundered with c3 ??  Leonid played Rxe8, Kxe8, Bxc3 ! and suddenly my winning advantage vaporized.  I was in complete shock.  I might have still had some winning chances, but I was in total disbelief.  The energy level ebbed away.  We Drew 10 moves later.  I was furious with the atrocious blunder I’d made.

I’d just blown two strong games which were both winning with much higher rated players – just when I was on the cusp of victory I was blundering.  I was outplaying the opponents, but not winning.  But It didn’t matter if I was playing strong 99% of the game.  A Win is achieved only if we play a complete and strong game till the end.  Disappointed, I went for a walk around the block to clear my head. I liked the way I was playing. I just had to maintain the game till the end.

In the third round I got paired with a lower-rated player with a FIDE rating of 1975.  That was really disappointing since it brought down the rating average of my opponents.  But there was nothing I could do, and I just focused on playing a good strong game and securing my first win.  My opponent, Manuel Nieto, was from Columbia and had come along with his brother and dad, who was one of the Arbiters as well.  All three of the Nieto  family would show up in elegant attire, with a tie and a cap.  It reminded me of the pictures hanging on the walls of The Marshall Club of games and players from the past era.  Manuel played the exact same line I’d played with Leonid (Reverse Psychology?!) in the previous round. After a few normal developing moves, I found a nice attacking idea, which in my opinion, practically wins on the spot.  Thereafter, the moves just flowed naturally and I won 10-15 moves later.

The Nieto brothers, xx and xx, from Columbia, with Akshat Chandra

The Nieto brothers, Guillermo and Manuel, from Columbia, with Akshat Chandra

In R4, I was paired with IM Farai Mandhiza (2396 Fide).  I’d a bit of annoying history with him.  In a blitz game IM Mandhiza had been dishonest, and placed an off-the-board Queen piece back on the board (he just had a King and a pawn, while I had a Rook, a Bishop and some pawns) and said I never claimed in-time.  That was nasty!  When I paused the clock to look for the Arbiter, Mandizha slyly turns the clock back on to run my time down, while I’m up from my seat.  I was aghasted at such cheap tricks by Mandizha.  This is not Chess!  We wrote to FIDE and they said Cheating has absolutely no ‘claim protection.’  Never expected such patzer-style cheating from a senior player like Mandizha, and someone who coaches.  So here we were.  I shook hands with IM Mandizha for that’s how the game’s played, and we settled down for our second-meeting.  I was playing Black.  Farai played the London System, which I countered with c5 and b6, a solid system.  Farai followed up with aimless moves and no clear plan.  I began to outplay him, but after positioning my pieces on their best squares, I was unable to find the breakthrough.  One of the few advantages of “bunker chess” is that one’s position is quite solid, and the opponent has to become a bit reckless if he/she wants to win.  We were both running low on time (Farai had 7 min, I had 4) with 5 moves to go before the time control.  Mandhiza sharpened the game up with g4 !?.  I responded with the double-edged Bg5 !?.  White missed the optimal continuation, and I managed to win a pawn just as we reached 40 moves.  Another mistake from his side sealed the deal, and Farai Mandizha resigned.

I was 3 of 4 points, after playing 3 higher rated. Not  too shabby at all :) .  Over the next three rounds I scored 1.5/3, losing to GM Jaan Ehlvest (2621 FIDE), drawing with FM Adarsh Jayakumar (2340 FIDE), and beating FM Rawle Allicock (2324 FIDE).  With 4.5/7 and a 2500+ performance, I was on track for an IM Norm, and maybe a GM Norm.  I was paired with GM Mikheil Keikilidze (2503 Fide) in R8.  A Win would guarantee an IM norm, and a Draw meant the norm was more or less in the bag.  I played atrociously and got a very unpleasant position.  Despite how gloomy things were looking, I wasn’t going down so easily.  I was playing for a Norm, baby!  Black missed a few wins, and that was a huge relief :) .  I managed to salvage something and obtained the upper hand once we reached 40 moves.  Mikheil had a complete meltdown thereafter, and failed to find a tenacious defense.  After losing his Knight, he resigned.  I’d earned my first IM Norm ! .  My postgame analysis revealed that my technique wasn’t up to the mark, as I gave an opportunity to GM Mikheil who even missed an incredible study-like Draw.  To see this Draw, and a more in-depth analysis of the game, click here  and scroll towards the bottom.  At times, luck helps one out and let me tell you, there’s nothing like beating a GM by luck :)

Final round - Aleksandr Ostrovskiy  and Akshat Chandra

Final round – Aleksandr Ostrovskiy and Akshat Chandra

The last round for me was uneventful.  I accepted Alexander Ostrovskiy’s (2397 Fide) Draw offer in a more or less even position.  I finished the tournament with 6/9, an opponent rating average of 2402, a rating performance of 2500+, an IM Norm, and 375$ :) . Overall it was a great and thrilling tournament, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Additionally, I was also able to meet up with my online friend, Alexander Ross Katz, best known for his signature and famous NY Giants Cap .   I’d play blitz with him between rounds, constantly falling prey to his swindles :) .   Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the World Open Update !

Akshat Chandra and Alexander Katz - I finally got to meet Alex

Akshat Chandra and Alexander Katz – I finally got to meet Alex

Alex Katz and Akshat - A bit of hat exchange.  I was thrilled to meet Alex.

Alex Katz and Akshat – A bit of hat exchange. I was thrilled to meet Alex :)

Akshat Chandra - It was great to be in New York

Akshat Chandra – Standing at the bottom of the towering World Trade Center

World U16 Chess Olympiad 2013 Recap

The World Youth Olympiad is an annual team tournament held for youth 16 years and under.  The tournament brings together talented teams of youngsters from all parts of the world. It’s sort of like the kid’s Chess Olympics :)  This year’s edition was held in  Chongqing, China, and concluded yesterday.  Going into the tournament, the favorites to win were the biggies Russia, and India. As usual, Russia was able to assemble a daunting group, with three IM’s ( one of them being 2554 !), one 2450 FM,  and an average team rating of 2480.

   Russia (RtgAvg:2480 / TB1: 17 / TB2: 30)
Bo. Name Rtg Pts. Games
1 IM Vladislav Artemyev 2554 8.0 10.0
2 IM Grigory Oparin 2497 8.0 10.0
3 FM Kirill Alekseenko 2449 6.0 9.0
4 IM Alexey Zenzera 2418 2.0 4.0
5 Maxim Vavulin 2356 6.0 7.0

India was also able to muster up a strong, talented group of players.  Their main roster consisted of 3 IM’s, an FM , and an average team rating of 2426.  Incidentally, these youngsters were my chess acquaintances and peers in India.  I played with all 5 of them.

   India (RtgAvg:2426 / TB1: 18 / TB2: 30.5)
Bo. Name Rtg Pts. Games
1 IM Shardul Annasaheb Gagare 2419 6.0 9.0
2 IM Karthikeyan Murali 2443 6.5 10.0
3 IM Diptayan Ghosh 2473 8.5 10.0
4 FM Sayantan Das 2368 7.5 9.0
5 Gireman Jagadeesan 2192 2.0 2.0

As some of you know, I previously played under the Indian Federation, as India was where I’d discovered chess!  I got the opportunity to play with these players, and let me tell you – the road to the best Indian Youth title goes through these guys :)

Team China 1, the local favorite and also a strong medal contender, was spearheaded by the only GM of the event ! 14-year old GM Wei Yi had become a GM earlier in the year at the Reykjavik Open, and is currently the youngest GM in the world.

1 GM Wei Yi 2557 China 1

USA decided to send two teams to the Olympiad, USA 1 and USA 2.

USA 1 (RtgAvg:2167 / TB1: 11 / TB2: 22)
Bo. Name Rtg Pts. Games
1 FM Jeffery Xiong 2369 4.5 8.0
2 Pamatmat Jarod 2172 5.0 8.0
3 FM Tommy He 2128 5.0 8.0
4 Joshua Sheng 1995 3.0 8.0
5 Bovey Liu 2000 4.5 8.0
6. USA 2 (RtgAvg:2338 / TB1: 14 / TB2: 26)
Bo. Name Rtg Pts. Games
1 FM Michael H Bodek 2386 4.0 8.0
2 FM Liou Yian 2381 4.5 7.0
3 Wang Kevin 2297 7.0 9.0
4 FM Shen Arthur 2286 4.0 8.0
5 Gu Christopher

I had some friends on USA 2 that I’d met at a US Chess School.  So naturally I was pulling for them to earn a medal.

The first few rounds went as expected. The favorites piled up the Match Points (MP’s). After 5 rounds, Russia was leading with a perfect 5-0 after barely beating USA 2, 2.5-1.5. That really stung, since USA 2 had hung close for most of the match. Round 6 was a crucial and decisive round. Russia and India squared off, with India pulling of the upset by winning 2.5-1.5. From there on, it was smooth sailing for my acquaintances on the Indian team and they coasted to victory and a gold medal. Russia had to settle for second, and Turkey placed third. Team USA 2 finished a commendable 6th, despite having another loss in R7 and a draw in R8. On the other hand, Team USA 1 was struggling throughout the tournament and finished at 25th, well below their 9th seed position.

Congrats India for achieving the coveted gold medal and for the USA 2 team for finishing in the Top 10 !!

It rocks being able to root for two countries ! :)

I hope I can play for Team USA at the Olympiad one day (I do need to first figure out the rules to get in :-)

For a more entertaining and comprehensive article on this tournament, please click here on GM Ian Rogers piece.

Venue for The World Junior Olympiad 2013, Chongqing, China

Venue for The World Junior Olympiad 2013, Chongqing, China (photo credit : official website)

 

SuperNationals V – Winning the K-9 National Chess Championship

The Cavernous Hall for Playing Blitz - how much time did it take to set up a 1000 boards with pieces :-)

The Cavernous Hall for Playing Blitz
Wonder how much time it took to set up a 1000 boards with pieces :)

Nashville! Nashville! Nashville!

That was the one word buzzing amongst the chess kids during March and April.  The SuperNationals was here and Nashville was the destination for many of us chess players!
To give you an idea, the SuperNationals brings together all age groups at once by combining the three National Scholastic championships for K-6, K-9 and K-12.  Like the Olympics, this is once in four-year event, and the 2013 edition was considered the largest chess tournament in the world, with 5335 participants. Definitely a special event!
A l'il Basketball never hurts!  Playing at Atlanta Airport enroute to Nashville.

Akshat Playing some basketball at Atlanta airport, enroute to Nashville

After arriving in Nashville, on Thursday afternoon, and settling down in our off-campus hotel, my Dad and I headed out to the venue for the Blitz tournament.  The venue was The Gaylord Opryland.  And what a venue – lush, broad and massive!  To me, it was as if I was walking in a tropical jungle.  I could feel the more primitive side of me roaring :)
Akshat at the Gaylord Opryland.  It was as big as a theme park.

Akshat at the Gaylord Opryland. It was as big as a theme park.
(Camera Dates on pictures are ahead by one day )

This was my first official USCF tournament.  The venue size and the buzz were a bit overwhelming at first.  But I adjusted quickly.  I registered for the K-12 blitz, as that would be most competitive, although I was playing the main tournament in the K-9 section.  The blitz format was 2 matches against the same opponent.  One with White pieces, the other with Black.
Akshat Chandra - waiting for the Blitz Chess rounds to begin

Akshat waiting for the Blitz Chess rounds to begin

An incredible thing one experiences at massive blitz tournament is the clicking sound of hundreds of clocks being punched in unison when the Arbiter says “Start your Game.”  As usual, the games started off easy but began to get tougher as I progressed.  By the time we reached the final round, I was 4/4.  For the final blitz round, I found myself on Board 1 against Michael Brown.  We both had full points, along with 4 others.  The first game was a Ruy Lopez, where I quickly got a winning position in the middlegame.  But Michael defended tenaciously and with the time ticking I found myself unable to find the decisive breakthrough.  It became a race for time then and we were bashing out the moves as fast as we could.  I stole a quick glance at our time.  I had ~10 sec and he had ~9.  Michael moved his Rook forward, (he didn’t let go) and then decided to move it one square to the side instead.  Unfortunately, I had already assumed that he was going to move his rook forward and played the automatic Kg3.  This meant I moved my King into a Check, an illegal move.  Michael captured my King, ending the game.  In Blitz, one illegal move results in an immediate loss.  I was hit hard by this new experience, since I was used to online blitz chess, where you only see the final move and not any last-moment revisions or hesitations. I was jolted and it was very hard for me to play anymore.  In the next game, I was lost right out of the opening and after a middlegame replete with mutual mistakes, we reached a drawn endgame.  But I lost on time.  It was a crushing way to end a well-played tournament.  Michael played well, and I congratulated him.

Akshat at the SuperNational Blitz Chess tournament

Akshat at the SuperNational Blitz Chess tournament.

 As I left the hall, I reminded myself that this Blitz tournament was a ‘warm-up,’ and for me the ‘real’ tournament was tomorrow. I tossed and turned in bed that night, restless and excited and unable to sleep.  After all, who can on the night before a huge event?   The rows of glittering trophies, and the sharpest scholastic chess minds vying for them, declared the importance of the occasion.  The scope and impact of this event had dawned on me.

 

I’d just returned to US two weeks earlier after a hiatus of ~four years during which I was mostly living in India, but also traveling across Asia and Europe to play FIDE Chess tournaments.  To hurriedly get used to playing Chess again and that too with an interesting time control, I’d played a short tournament at Marshalls Club in New York, where my performance was subpar.  Figuring out the novel Delay time control was amusing.  Nowhere had I seen this outside US.  Some of these thoughts were going through my head as I dozed off.

 

When I awoke the next day, I was pumped and ready to get this party started!  The venue was  a 15-minute walk from our hotel, so we had to pace ourselves accordingly.   But it was another 15 minutes just walking within the unending Opryland campus to arrive at the playing hall.  The first day, when we rushed-in, everyone was already seated and the Chief Tournament Director Enrique Huerta was announcing the rules.  I was amazed at the impeccable organization.  I’ve played tournaments which couldn’t start on time with 20 players, and here they were managing thousands of players, while still maintaining punctuality!  As per my converted USCF rating I was the sixth seed, but by FIDE rating I was the highest rated.

 

The first round had me playing Christian Muraira (USCF 1700), a boy from Texas.  He played the Alekhine’s defense, which is rare nowadays.  Christian dubiously captured a pawn with his Queen, after which I got a winning position and won soon thereafter.  My first USCF tournament win!  The next round was later at 7pm, and I was playing Pranav Srihari from California, (USCF 1914).  The game was a Sicilian Grand Prix and became a slow maneuvering position.  I gradually outplayed him over time and finished the game off with a decisive tactical blow.  After the two rounds on the first day, Rest was very important, since the next day there’d be a strenuous three rounds.Next day, in the third round I was paired with Jeffrey Chang (USCF ~2050).  I played a rare line against the Najdorf, hoping to surprise him.  Apparently, the line doesn’t seem to be rare anymore since everyone seems to know how to play against it :) After Jeff played an interesting pawn sacrifice at the center, a dynamic middlegame arose, and man-oh-man the mistakes never stopped.  I was overreacting to each of his moves, and at one point he missed a move to even things out.  The only positive from my side was that I was way ahead on time. Eventually, I was able to get my king out of the center (big relief).  He had about 10 minutes left with a 5-second delay, so I decided to play a provocative move which would force him to calculate and use more time.  As I expected, he went into a pawn endgame which is winning for me, but only if I was precise.  Unfortunately, I erred by moving my king out first.  It still wins, but complicates matters.  Inversing the move order by playing g4 first was simpler.  But I didn’t know then that I’d erred.  Completely oblivious that I had jeopardized the win, I sunk into deep thought. It was then it dawned on me that I’d missed the move sequence, and now I’d have to rely on a blunder from Jeff if I wanted to win.  I started advancing on the Queenside, and after b4 I expected axb4, trading down into a drawn position.  Instead, Jeff played a4??, after which I was able to win as his king can’t advance since I always have the threat of b5.  Winning a game like this was hardly satisfying, but I’ll take it.

Between the Rounds, Enjoying the Delightful Venue!

Between the Rounds, Enjoying the Venue!

Next round I was playing Samarth Chakrasali (USCF ~2100), and this was a much better game from my side.  I beat him in classic fashion, outplaying move by move and then transitioning to a won endgame.  In the meantime, on the top board Cameron Wheeler had drawn with Craig Hilby. This meant things were in my hands now and I had a chance to breakout.  I was on the stage now playing against Vignesh Panchanatham (USCF 2200) on board 1, who was also 4/4.  At first, I misplayed the middlegame and turned worse.  But Vignesh also misplayed and I leveled up.  I decided to trade down into a pleasant endgame where I thought I’d be able to grind him down.  But in the endgame Vignesh defended tenaciously and was able to thwart all my threats. After I’d exhausted nearly all my time, I forced a repetition and we Drew late in the night.
Akshat Chandra waiting to begin the 4th Chess round with Vignesh, who came armed with a bag of fruits :-)

Akshat  waiting to begin the 4th Chess round with Vignesh, who came armed with a bag of berries and a giant Batman-style bottle :)

 I was highly disappointed with my Draw as things were no longer in my hands.  Meanwhile in other board action that night, Safal Bora had emerged as the sole leader with 5/5 and was set to play Cameron Wheeler next morning in the 6th round.  There were a bunch of us at 4 ½ points.

 

As I walked back to the hotel that night, I realized that the winner of this tournament would be the player who won both rounds on the final day.  That was something still under my control, and I decided to focus on that.  Also, the tournament this close doesn’t end till the last round is played.  It was midnight by the time I got back to my room, after a tiring 45-minute wait for dinner at McDonalds (so much for FAST food).

 

Sunday morning I arrived at the venue to play Daniel Ng (USCF 2074).  I was Black against a Rossolimo, and I must say I was very pleased with my play.  I outplayed him and won fairly easily.  It was a good start to the final day, and the win put me on 5.5/6.  I didn’t know what had happened on the first board game between Cameron and Safal.  My father suspected it may have been a Draw, and so I set myself up to play with White against Safal, since we were opposite colors.  Earlier I had observed that Vignesh overcame Kapil Chandran in the 6th round.  So this was getting crowded.

 

A little after 1:45pm, the pairings came out and I learnt that Cameron had defeated Safal on the first board earlier, and now I was playing Black against Cameron.   This was a surprise pairing and a double-black, about 10-minutes before the round time.  I also learnt that I was tied for first place with Cameron and Vignesh – all of us at 5½ points.  However I had the best tiebreak, which was a full two points over Cameron and Vignesh, and also well-above the entire field.  This meant that I had got myself into a position where I controlled the outcome of the tournament.  If I won my game, the Title was mine.  If I Drew, then Vignesh had to Draw as well in order for me to win the Title.  It had come down to the final round.  One of us three would emerge as the Champion.
Final Chess Round -  Cameron Wheeler and Akshat Chandra at the SuperNationals V

Final Chess Round at the SuperNationals V
Cameron Wheeler and Akshat Chandra

I was playing on Board 1 on the stage.  The game was a Neo-Catalan accepted.  On Move 9, Cameron played a4, a move which I wasn’t familiar with.  I fell behind on time, trying to decide which structure to opt for.  I decided to weaken my light squares by playing b4.  My idea was to eventually maneuver my Knight to d4.  By move 16, I had put this plan into action, which would slowly improve my position.  In my opinion, I feel Cameron may have overestimated his position and didn’t sense the danger when he played 17.e4.  This created a gaping hole on d4, which I exploited by maneuvering my other Knight to b5, to control the d4 outpost.  Cameron then made the fatal error of advancing on the kingside.  I played Bxc4! followed by e5!  I now had decisive control over the dark squares.  Shortly thereafter, I penetrated on the c-file and when he was going to get mated or lose a substantial amount of material, Cameron resigned.  I couldn’t believe it !  I’d won the K-9 SuperNational Championship.  I was America’s K-9 Champion.  As it turned out, Vignesh lost his game.  I was the sole winner with 6.5/7.

 

After the game Robert Wheeler, Cameron’s father, came over to congratulate me.  That was a great gesture from Mr.Wheeler.  I appreciated that greatly.  As a memento, Tournament Director Enrique Huerta graciously gave me a SuperNational V pin he was wearing on his lapel.

 

Going up on stage to receive the trophy was the best part.  By winning my section, I received a full scholarship to the University of Dallas (UTD) and a humongous trophy!  Lifting the trophy on the stage in front of hundreds of people was thrilling and very satisfying.  It was my first and last Supernationals, which made the Win all the more sweet and special.
2013 Super Nationals K-9 Chess Champion Akshat Chandra with Dr. Root representing University of Texas, and Mr. Bill Hall, Executive Director, US Chess Federation

2013 SuperNationals K-9 US Chess Champion Akshat Chandra
with Dr. Root representing University of Texas, and
Mr. Bill Hall, Executive Director, US Chess Federation

Akshat Chandra with Dr. RootIt felt great lifting the  Trophy

Akshat Chandra with Dr. Root.
It felt great lifting the Trophy!

After the prize distribution, I went over to congratulate some of the other high-rankers.  There was disappointment on faces of a few, and they appeared surprised at my gesture.  Thereafter, I quickly left the K-9 Championship ceremony, and headed to my room.  Then till midnight I was catching up on my homework, which had to be sent out.  I did quite a lot of it and then caught up with more at the Atlanta airport on our way home to New Jersey, where my Mom and brother eagerly awaited my arrival.  This time I was bringing home a trophy – a big one too.

 

To close out this post, I’d like to thank a source of inspiration, my friend whom I shall call  “SeaB”; my Coach who has worked very hard to get me to where I am; and finally my family for always being there for me :)  I’d also like to thank the organizing team for their exceptional organization of the event, and hope they bid for world FIDE events like the World Youth.

 

Enjoy some more pictures and thanks for reading.
At the Go-Kart track on our way to the Venue

At the Go-Kart track on our way to the Venue

IMG_6430 IMG_6429 IMG_6423

Waiting for the Prize Ceremony to begin

Waiting for the Prize Ceremony to Begin

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The Gigantic Trophy had to be carried in 2 sections on the plane.
Waiting at Atlanta, GA airport or was it Nashville, TN – don’t remember now…:)

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Playing the Czech Open 2012

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vy0mADKcGg]

Video Courtesy : Juray Pechac & Michal Novotny, Pardubice Tourism Department, Czech Republic


(I’m finally catching up on a great tournament I played last year – The Czech Open)

Pardubice!  That was our next destination.  After bidding farewell to Belgrade, we boarded the bus to Prague, Czech Republic.  The bus started at noon, and was supposed to reach Prague at 5:00 the next morning, after traveling through Hungary, Slovakia, and the Austrian  border.  That’s 17 hours of quality bus-time!   But this bus, driven by a zippy Serbian reached Prague at 1:30 in the morning, 3 1/2 hours earlier.  So there we were, standing in the middle of some road, half-awake, and no idea where we were.  Fortunately we were able to ask a person who knew English, and they gave us directions to the train station “Hlvani Nadrazi.”   With no cabs in sight, we trudged on the cobble-stone pavements of Prague towards a station that seemed to keep feeling farther away.  Fortunately, the streets of Praha, as Prague is called locally, are safe.  We finally arrived at the station around 3 am, our last few steps a little bit zippier at the thought of entering the cozy station on a nippy early morning.  As we reached the doors and pulled, we discovered that they were locked.  Hastily, we moved to the next set of doors, but with the same disappointing outcome.  We turned around in disappointment, and it started to become clear.  We saw the benches infront of the  station were occupied by travelers like us.  The station is closed around midnight and reopens at 3:30 am.  

So after finding a bench outside the station, we waited for the doors to open.   Extremely tired and disoriented, our long journey was not ending anytime soon.  After our arrival at  Pardubice train station from Praha around 7:30am, we didn’t have the local currency to purchase a bus ticket or hire a cab to the stadium.  The money changer opened at 8:30 am or 9am.  This was too much.  I was EXTREMELY tired and disoriented, and I don’t know how but I just gave up and went to sleep on a small bench.  Pictures later showed, it was quite a feat to sleep on a cramped bench.  After another 2 hours of waiting at the stadium to get directions to our hotel booked by the organizers, and another 1 mile walk or drag I should say, we finally reached the hotel at 11am.  The beds were a sight for sore eyes.  Off we went to sleep.  We woke up later in the afternoon at 4pm.  

This is the time we entered the Prague station.  And it’s AM!

When I woke up, I felt rejuvenated and we checked out the area and visited the tournament stadium.  This was like an Olympics of indoor games – many different kinds of championships around the Chess Tournament.   The best thing happened to me when I opened the door to enter the main arena.  I bumped straight into Super GM David Navara – the polite GM.  He had finished his closed-invitational tournament, and was running out as he informed us to catch a train to another tournament in Europe.  He was polite enough to allow me to have a picture taken with him, and then he was gone.  When we turned around, he was in a distance running away to make his train.  What an impressive, kind person!  He could have said NO and didn’t have to run.  But he said Yes, and then had to run to makeup!  Thanks, David – Truly a Champion!

Refreshed, we set off to explore the City & Venue
The Town Square, near our Hotel; our daily transit point
Czech Open Venue


The Open chess tournament was a 9 round, 2200 and above one, with  259 players.  I was 211th seed!  I was so far down below on the starting list, that you would have to click “Show Complete List” on chess-results.com to see my name :)  The games were played on yellow and brown boards, the first time I’d seen those kind.  In the first round I was paired with fellow American IM Alexander Battey rated 2398. I’d met Alex a few days earlier at my last tournament in Europe, but had never played him.  Alex was wearing dark sunglasses, and he kept wearing them throughout the game.  It wasn’t because of any hurt; so perhaps to diminish the glare from the stadium lights.  I thought he may just break into a song any moment :-)  I was playing White.  It was a Caro-Kann, and my move Qc4 !? sharpened up the game.  I had sacrificed a pawn, but had good compensation.  Alexander misplayed it and then fell into time trouble.  I managed to win a piece, and soon after the entire game.  It felt great to start of the strongest tournament I’ve ever played till then with a victory!  And that too against an IM!  

The second round, I played a Hungarian IM who was 2480.  It was a complex Schliemann Ruy Lopez, and I was feeling rather happy about my position, before I made some peculiar moves.  I missed a way to equalize and lost.  I didn’t spend too much time brooding about  it and decided to clear my head for the next round opponent – IM Tomas Kulhanek.  IM Tomas surprised me during the opening.  I messed up after that and was in huge problems on the board and with time.  Once he opened up a second front, it was curtains for me.  The game was decisively shifting more-and-more towards the IM.  But, then he blundered and I saw a tactical shot!  Hope crept up into my heart as I played Ng3; he moved his King back and I captured his Rook.  He swung his Queen over to f4 and I desperately searched for the win, under intense time pressure.  10 seconds, 9, 8 … I quickly played a random move and lost.  I was heartbroken…crushed.  Here was a chance to make amends, and I let it slip away.  When I analysed the game I realized that I had seen the Win, but missed the sequence of moves.  It stung bad – real bad, knowing that I had missed a Win. But I couldn’t let this ruin my tournament.  I followed the rules which I had written down in my post ‘How to Recover from Tough Losses.’

Getting Ready for the Second Round.
The distinctive yellow & brown chess board.
Top-seed Romanian Chess GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.
Akshat Chandra playing with Hungarian IM Istvan Sipos in Chess R2
Akshat Chandra with IM Tomas Kulhanek in Chess R3
Akshat Chandra playing Filip Umanec in Chess R4
Akshat Chandra with WIM Havlikova Kristyna in Chess R5
Akshat Chandra with Tokmachev Mikhail in Chess R6
Akshat playing with Martin Lokander -
Top Swedish U16 player; in Chess R7

My tournament went fairly well after that.  I had some nice fighting games, but in two games I missed a Draw and a Win.  I reached the last round with 3.5/8.  For the final round, I was paired with a local favorite FM Michal Novotny!  He worked in the town’s Tourism Department, and at the office he had given us some suggestions on touring the city.  What a coincidence!  Well now, it was time for Michal and I to tour the board :)  He played a dubious line, and I found myself with an overwhelming advantage.  I started to Pawn-storm him on the Queen-side, and just as I was about to breakthrough, I erred wtih b6.  Aaargh!  There are many a slip between the cup and the lip!  It was an intuitive move, to open the b file and attack his King.  But things weren’t so easy as I found out.  Michal defended precisely, and soon I found myself a pawn down, and no attack going.  The time on the clock read 2 minutes for me and 18 for Michal.  My time was ticking down, and I was mentally kicking myself for blowing a great position.  I finally erred on move 39, just a move before additional time control, and Michal won an exchange.  My heart sank, and I clasped my head.  But after that Michal started to play quickly, perhaps realizing a Win was coming up soon.  His fast moves gave me hope, and I tested him with a  complicated and tricky move a6.  Michal again moved quickly, and captured the Pawn with Qxa6.  He was doing what would work for me.  But just as I was about to play Ra1, I realized that his Rd6 saves the game for him, and I have nothing thereafter.  The door of hope shut again.  I really wanted to win after missing out on many better outcomes.  I sat there for 10 minutes, wishing I could make it all work.  Then it hit me.  I simply had to inverse the move order, and victory was mine !!  I played Qd8 and my heart leapt in excitement.  I was surging with confidence again.  It was like someone had recharged me.

Akshat Chandra playing WIM Maya Porat, in chess R8
Akshat Chandra playing with FM Michal Novotny
at the Czech Chess Open 2012 ; R9


Michal, realizing his blunder, smiled and resigned.  I felt his resignation was a bit premature, but I’ll take it :)  Michal was a very good sport about it and congratulated me.  A big smile broke out at the board, and it sunk in that I had just won a game from a hopeless position.  As Siegbert Tarrasch said, “Nobody ever won a game by resigning.”  I’d to keep trying.  The win pulled me up to 4.5/9, and I finished with +28 ELO rating points.  It was definitely a memorable finish to this strong tournament, and a game I’ll always remember.  Michal from Pardibice Tourism was kind enough to post a video of the game online.  I’ve linked that video at the top of this post.

Thereafter, we spent a few days in Praha.  It’s called a city of Towers and Bridges for a reason.  It’s one of the most beautiful cities we saw on our trip – rich in architecture and culture – a legacy of so many rulers from different empires over the centuries.  If you get a chance, do Play Czech Open in Pardubice and do Visit Praha!

Outside the Stadium Venue. Trying our Luck
with Giant Chess Pieces.  Aditya and Akshat Chandra
Checking out Pardubice 
Near our hotel.  Hey, pretty peacock!
Careful with my fingers; I need’em for my Chess pieces  :-)
At close quarters.  Becoming more friendly :-)

>>>>>> STAY TUNED FOR THE SUPERNATIONALS POST !! >>>>>>

Playing with Super GM Anish Giri !

A few days ago, I was on a chess server and I got paired with  chess prodigy GM Anish Giri.  It was Akshat Chandra vs Anish Giri.  I was electrified.  Here I was playing a 2700+ Top 20 player in the world.  We played out to a Draw, and after that I decided to strike up a conversation with him.  I was still shaking in disbelief, at the opportunity to play an elite player.  I was stunned when he wrote back.  Tingling with excitement, I carried on the conversation.  Anish is a modest and jovial person to talk to.  He told me when he was about my age, he was playing in Wijk an Zee, where a top 10 GM, Peter Leko  started talking to him!  Anish said he was thrilled and was able to relate to my excitement of talking to a 2700 + GM.  We talked for about 30 minutes – about tournaments he’d recommend for someone at my level, and about the sublime Amsterdam Waffles.  :-)  Another Dutch delicacy called ‘Hagelslag’ (chocolate sprinkles), was recommended by him.  So next time, be sure to try that out when you visit the Netherlands :-)  Anish was also preparing for the Reykjavik Open 2013, where he is the top seed.  He was in fact in Reykjavik at the time, and his opening round was the next day.  With 2 rounds to go, Anish is on 6/8, and plays fellow Dutchman Erwin L’ami in R9.  I wish Anish  the very best.  Good luck, Anish !  And thank you for making a young chess buff’s day!

              “Flying Dutchman!” Chess Wizard Anish Giri                           

Media Mention – US Chess – A GM Win

I will like to share that my article regarding my first GM win was published in the United States Chess Federation’s (USCF) Chess Life for Kids publication!  A mention also appeared on the USCF website.

And the big thing was that Editor Glenn Petersen put me on the cover of the magazine!  For me that’s just like being on the Sports Illustrated cover.

Thanks Glenn!!  Thanks Jennifer Shahade for the online posting!

Akshat Chandra in Chess Life for Kids  -   February 2013

Chess in Novi Sad, Serbia

After the Italian leg, it was time to go to Serbia!  

Serbia, here I come !

Serbia is a special place for Chess.  Everyone appears to know chess.  Even the cab drivers talk about chess.  Serbia is no longer the force it used to be in Chess.  The war, newer job opportunities, and the present slow economy (as I was told) has taken its toll.  I learnt there is much less government support for the chess game now.  But Chess lives in Serbian hearts.  At one time Serbia had the highest ratio of Chess Grandmasters (GM)/Population of any country.  I visited Belgrade, and then headed out to Novi Sad for the “3rd International Chess Championship of Vojvodina 2012.”  We stayed near the market square area.  It’s a rectangular-shaped area with a beautifully constructed soaring Gothic architecture Church at one end, accompanied with many old-style elegant architecture buildings around the rectangle.  Well, I liked the section of Novi Sad where we stayed.  It’s pretty, plenty of restaurants, and attracts a lot of young people in the evenings – it’s a popular meeting area.  This part of the city is alive with parties going strong all night till early hours of the morning.  And if a soccer game or a tennis match featuring the popular Serbian tennis ace Novak Djokovic is going on, then the noise gets real loud.  Restaurants put out tables and chairs in the promenade with big television screens, and everyone has a blast.  English is not widely spoken, but you always end up finding someone who could talk sufficient English. 

Nice and Warm – Novi Sad


God, I look like a duck in this :)
The Waving Two!

The chess tournament was held in a medical college on the street, Gagarinova, named after the famous Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.  Days were real hot as Summer was at its peak.  The ratio of higher to lower rated chess players wasn’t fantastic from my standpoint, but if you could beat the lower rated you were rewarded with a higher rated opponent the next round (most of the time).  My ELO was 2155 in this tournament.  In the first round, I was paired with a local boy Grcic Vukasin, a young 9 year old player.  His father was also playing, and was on the next board.  During the game, my opponent kept smiling at me and was moving quite fast.  So I inferred that he has some preparation in this Opening and knows what he’s doing.  For all I know he may be a local chess legend and has seen it all.  So that thought made me quickly get pinned to the chair, and I focused hard, gaining an advantage and fairly quickly finishing the game with a striking blow.  When we were recording the chess result, Grcic again smiled big and I realized that he was just a friendly guy.  His father told me later, that since I was a fairly high-rated youngster, my opponent was just excited and happy to play with me and wanted me to be his buddy (even though my buddy didn’t speak any English).  It was Grcic’s first rated chess tournament.  :o)

Chess Tournament Begins.  Round 1 – Akshat Chandra and the merry Grcic Vukasin. I give the cameraman, the “Death Stare”

In R2, I was paired with IM Dejan Leskur and it was an uneventful Draw.  Next was Vladimir Klasan, a 2345 Elo rated player.  This game was absolutely nuts and very long.  I got a superior position out of the Opening.  But then I surrendered the advantage with one weak move that shifted the initiative to Vladimir.  It cost me a Pawn, but I was confident that I can turn the tables on Vladimir as he was getting into time trouble.  I sacrificed another Pawn to proceed into an endgame, where my King was extremely active with chances of a mating net while the opponent’s pieces were uncoordinated.  As I had anticipated, Vladimir blundered and I went on to further simplify the game.  I began tightening my grip on the game, and was an exchange up.  It was 2 pawns for Vladimir Vs my Knight and a Pawn.  Right then the blunder came – this time it was mine.  I had to stop Vladimir’s Pawn immediately, two squares from Queening, and then move the King.  Instead I reversed the sequence.  Consequently, his Pawn became a square away from Queening and I’d to devote my Knight to guard the Pawn.  The right sequence was to block first and then move my King to defend my white Pawn on 5th rank.  I played on for quite some time trying to hope for a mistake from him, but it was almost impossible to make one.  I had just blown the game!  Not the first time, and it a’int going to be the last.  Had to move on – Chess teaches you that.  I settled for a disappointing Draw :( .   A tiring game!  

Waiting for the opponent! Chess Pieces on the ready
Here he is!  Akshat Chandra and IM Dejan Leskur playing Chess R2.
Waiting and smiling while I can.  Akshat Chandra and Vladimir Klasan
waiting to begin Chess Round 3
Akshat Chandra and Vladimir Klasan.
It was a 5-hour long Chess game!
Akshat Chandra and Vladimir Klasan.  The Final Position!
Chess Chief Arbiter IA Boban Milojevic signed the sheet.

In the 4th round I was paired with GM Goran Kosanovic.  I was better out of the Opening, but I didn’t attack.  I kind of just developed and waited for him to create some weaknesses.  We went into a chess endgame where I was completely passive.  It might have been tenable, but after 2 hours I just gave up.  It was disappointing, since I didn’t really put up a strong fight.  The next round was with a lower rated, ELO 1975, and I won that without any issues.  In the 6th round, I played with a local chess player Nenad Dimitrijevic, who had an ELO of 2255.  I tried to complicate the game for him by sacrificing a Pawn for open lines on the queenside – kind of like the Volga Gambit chess idea.  But it wasn’t enough and after exchanging all the queenside pawns, we simplified into a 4 Vs 4 rook endgame and Drew.  The next round I got paired with a 1795, which was really surprising and disappointing since I was expecting a higher-rated chess player.  There was not much to do that morning in terms of preparation.  So I just walked around with my Dad around the city, and then showed up to play.  It was a fairly comfortable win.  

Akshat Chandra and GM Goran Kosanovic in Chess Round 4 
Akshat Chandra playing Dragan Milisevic in Chess Round 5,
and being observed by friend Magnus ;-)
Akshat Chandra and Nenad Dimitrijevic in Chess Round 6.
You can see Andrew Stone from England next to me.
Andrew is a teacher and a strong chess player who had braved
the Serbian Summer to play here.
Deep Chess Thinking, but couldn’t breakout.
Akshat in round 6.
Akshat beating the Novi Sad July heat!

In the penultimate round, I was paired with a Chess FM Milenko Pucarevic.  Milenko showed up in a straw hat and a blue sleevelet, and I nicknamed him “Cowboy.”  Milenko started the Chess game with a 1.b4 opening!  Now that was really surprising.  Milenko sacrificed a pawn early on and then couldn’t get his compensation.  I had to be very careful, and after some accurate calculations I built my position up and finally lassoed Milenko.  It was a fun win!  The chess tournament was coming to an end, and in the final round I was paired with IM Lazar Nestorovic.  He surprised me in the opening.  I began to play quite weirdly, as I was desperate for some play.  IM Lazar made a mistake in the middlegame, and that put me a bit ahead.  But he had two Bishops, which were not be compromised that day.  Without a compelling advantage, I didn’t have much choice but to repeat moves.  My final chess game of this tournament was a Draw.

Akshat Chandra and FM Milenko Pucarevic ‘Cowboy’ in Chess Round 8
The final game of the Chess tournament -
Akshat Chandra playing IM Lazar Nestorovic
 Not much of a chance to breakout.  This Chess game ended in a Draw

I finished the tournament with 6/9, which was good enough to get me a runner-up prize in the U16 section.  I got a chess set, and a FIDE digital timepiece (from a Blitz edition earlier).  Not a bad haul, I would say :-) .  It was time to move on.  The next morning my Dad and I took the bus back to Belgrade, where we met my brother and Mom – after close to 2 months.  It felt really good meeting them.  If you ever happen to be in Belgrade, do take a quick trip to Novi Sad church square.  You’ll like it.

Akshat Chandra with Chief Organizer GM Sinisa Drazic (behind me),
receiving the Chess Tournament Prize for U16


Midnight Chess Blitz session with Chief Arbiter IA Boban Milojevic with Nikola watching us.
Boban is a good chess player and a good arbiter :)
My first round chess opponent and now buddy, Grcic
Akshat Chandra with Miriam, chess organizer, who
used to often drop-us off at our hotel after late night games.
Everyone was great.
Akshat sharing smiles with Branislav Popovic and Nikola Blagojevic
who were staying in the same hotel
Coming soon to your TV – the Fab 4!
Can you spot me?  :-)
These billboards are filled with cool guys!

 

Chess in Braunau, Austria

The final chess tournament of my European Summer 2012 trip was in the small city of Branau Am Inn, Austria.  The weather was great during early August.  The great thing about the Braunau Open Chess Tournament was its high concentration of chess Grandmasters (GMs) – most of the higher rated players above me were GMs!  The organizers should be credited with being able to attract 9 GMs and 4 International Masters (IMs), out  of a total of 40 players.  This is what attracted me to this chess tournament – the opportunity to play some highly-experienced and titled players.  I must say the experience was great!  Although I played with only 3 GMs and not more, that was my mistake.  

Here starts the first chess round - 
Akshat Chandra and Dr. Stefan Berger 

The first round was with a local opponent who had a lower ELO, but was quite strong and it definitely wasn’t an easy game.  In the next round, I played with Indian GM Neelotpal Das.  I was playing White.  We went into a line which I was fairly comfortable with and after shuffling the pieces around for a while I moved further into a line of attack which looked quite promising.  After all, who doesn’t like advancing pawns towards the opponent’s King :)  GM Das offered me a Draw and I realized that my line of attack was not going to materialize into anything concrete as he had adequate counterplay.  After a 20-minute think, I accepted the Draw offer.  A self-analysis later in my room confirmed this with a 0.00 evaluation.  

Next round I was up against the Senior World Chess Champion GM Vladimir Okhotnik. Oldest vs Youngest!  There was a lot to play here for.  

Akshat Chandra and GM Vladimir Okhotnik.  The game was
watched by the Deputy Mayor 
Sonja Loeffler
organizer Gerhard Berger, and Addy (white Tees)

GM Okhotnik misplayed the opening and I had a dominating advantage.  Unfortunately, I missed the win and messed up the middle-game.  Oh, how painful it was.  Anyhow, we went into a rook endgame which I misplayed again (not good), but luckily I managed to reach Philidor’s position which is like the elementary ABC of rook endgames.  I was relaxed now since I knew this was a Draw, and the Phildor position in Chess is something which a player at my level knows fairly comfortably.  But I didn’t realize there is an impulsive child lurking in my head.  I just wanted to get the game over with now, since it was a straight-forward Draw.  The first mistake was when I moved my Rook away from the 6th rank – oh, how impulsive.  That vaporized the chance of a simple Draw.  The easiest way for a Draw was just to leave the Rook on the 6th rank.  When GM Okhotnik placed his rook on the 6th rank, I moved my King up without thinking.  Yes, without thinking!  Really, this was a weak and silly move, as I assumed I would still be able to hold the Phildor position.  I just didn’t think.  The GM’s King came back to where it was and suddenly it hit me that I had  committed a serious error of judgement.  Psychologically I broke down.  That breakdown was the second mistake, because there was still an opportunity to Draw if I had stayed calm.  Even though things were now a bit complicated, a Draw was still possible.  I just didn’t realize the possibility, and unfortunately resigned.  Extremely crushing since it was such a golden opportunity, and I wasn’t outplayed by GM Okhotnik.  I went from a potential Win, to a straight-forward Draw, to a devastating Loss.  I wanted to highlight this game because there were lots of lessons I learnt from this one chess game.  The Game A’int Over Till We Give Up.  Perhaps some fellow chess players who read can avoid the composure mistakes that I made.  

Thereafter, everything was a bit of struggle.  Was it fatigue of being out on-the-road for many weeks or just a tired mind after a crushing loss.  Perhaps a combination.  My Chess was not sharp anymore.  Next round I barely managed to beat a lower rated – the win felt good because I could bounce back.  I then played GM Sergey Kasparov.  Unfortunately I couldn’t prevail – I wasn’t calculating deep enough and missing things which I shouldn’t have overlooked.  It was getting hard to even think deep.  In other words, the message was clear – it was time to rest and recharge.

Johann Maierhofer playing with Akshat Chandra.
I missed a clever move by him.  He had been requesting Draws

 and my slip-up gave him a Win.  Well, good for him.

I muddled through the rest of the tournament with some uninspiring games.  The final tournament of my European trip was not the going-out-with-a-bang kind.  Despite my tournament not going well, it was a good experience overall.  

The organizers, Norbert Fruhauf and Gerhard Spiesberger were very helpful and polite, and were always ready to assist us.  It felt like so many people of this small-town got involved, including the families of organizers, in order to make this tournament a great success.  Braunau had never seen such a high-level tournament before, and the organizing team did a wonderful job.  They made the city proud.  I would strongly recommend and hope that they continue this wonderful tournament in future years.  It’s not easy to do such a big tournament in a small town, and of course it means a lot of hard work.  But it was an outstanding tournament.

Akshat Chandra and Aditya ‘Addy’ Chandra with organizers
Norbert Fruhauf and Gerhard Spiesberger.  Well Done Norbert and Gerhard!

I and my family left for Munich thereafter for sometime, and eventually headed home.  Many of my friends from Europe have been in touch.  A few of them played in the World Olympiad in Turkey in Aug-Sep 2012.  I wish them luck!

As a side note, we had a bad experience at the local Hotel Neussl also called Hotel AM Theater Park.  So if you ever go to Braunau, do not stay at Hotel AM Theater Park or Hotel Neussl – it’s a crazy place.

The trophies were beautiful
GM Panchanathan Magesh Chandran – the tournament winner.
His style of play – it ain’t over till the last game.
With little Ms. Berger (Caroline, I think that’s how you spell it :) 
- isn’t she sweet like a strawberry
With the kind and helpful Berger family
It’s me, Akshat, with GM Medvegy Zoltan and WFM Emese Balogh.
Emese was so kind and wonderful to us throughout the tournament.
Brothers – Akshat and Aditya
Aditya ‘Addy’ playing with Helmut Stohr
Getting ready to play blitz – the genial GM Magesh vs Akshat.
Merrymaking in Munich!  Akshat and Aditya.



Forni Di Sopra…Scenic Chess

Next stop after Ortisei … Forni Di Sopra!  Forni Di Sopra is a small, lush village, located in the Dolomite region.  It’s very scenic with open views, and a beautiful place for a Chess tournament.  The ride to Forni Di Sopra from Ortisei itself was quite scenic and I must say long – we changed 4 trains in different cities.  

Took 4 trains to get to Forni from Ortisei
Captivating scenery during the train rides

Once we settled into our wonderful hotel, my Dad and I would bike up into the hills and soak in the serenity.  I’d collect my thoughts and try to visualize my chess game.  It was very peaceful, and gave me a unique sense of power.  The best part of the biking trip was coming downhill (guess, the worst part :-) ) on the curvy road.  Although, I did have a scary moment when at a blind curve a deer jumped from thick tree cover right in-front of my bike.  I don’t know who was more alarmed – the deer or me.  But I bet we were both glad we could go our own ways without getting hurt.  And I didn’t fall off my bike, although I did go zig-zaggy for a few yards.  Phew!  

Enjoying the beautiful surroundings
Coming Uphill.  During downhill I had the Deer encounter

Well, after this wild & exciting encounter, things got even more exciting as the Chess tournament got underway.  For me the first game was the only one of real significance in this chess tournament.  The round was to begin at 4pm, and the first round pairings were posted at the venue about 3:45pm, 15 minutes before.  I was to play Black against GM Korneev Oleg (2585).  I took a quick look at his chess games and went over in my head on what I will like to do.  I entered the hall at 4pm, and quickly stole a look again at the Chess pairing list to confirm my table number.  What!  The pairing had been changed and now I was playing as White against GM Pavel Tregubov (2595) from Russia.  My first thought was Wow – I got an almost 2600 rated GM.  The highest rated player I’ve played so far.  Then I realized that I had the wrong game plan in mind for the pairing and color had been changed at the very last minute.  Kind of shocking.  Well, there was no time to look over any chess games or develop a new plan, and so I tried to keep a cool mind as I walked to table #2.  GM Pavel Tregubov was the second seed in the tournament.  As I sat down, I found myself in good company.  Next to me was the top seed on Table #1, GM Ivan Salgado Lopez from Spain.  So I was in great company with the top seed next to me and the second seed infront of me :-) 

Just learnt my new pairing with GM Pavel
Here we go!  It’s a 4pm start for the first round of Chess.
You can see my now famous seat cushions :-)
The Opening Chess Move – Akshat Vs GM Pavel Tregubov

I remembered what my coach and friend had said in the past.  “Try and attack higher rated Chess players; they usually don’t feel good when lower rated show they are not scared.”  That’s good advise for those who find themselves in my kind of pairing situation.  Well, that’s exactly what I did!  I was fairly confident after the opening and from the 12th move itself I declared my intentions that I was going all the way, and not trying to hide under the table or build a fortress.  Also I knew the pressure was on him, since I had nothing to lose.  GM Pavel appeared to crack under the pressure and made an inaccurate exchange sacrifice, typical for the Sicilian (not the inaccurate part!) but not really working on the board at that time.  

A lot of chess thinking.  You can see the bearded GM Ivan Lopez,
top seed and eventual winner
I’m not teasing chess GM Pavel :-)  just thinking hard
As the game progressed, we were the only ones left
(Akshat Chandra Vs GM Pavel Tregubov)

Through the entire game, I’d GM Pavel rooted to his chair.  I managed to exchange queens and  trade down further to a winning endgame where I had Rook+Rook Vs Rook+Bishop and few pawns.  I was now so excited that I could not think straight – and I wasn’t able to find the elusive win.  We spent 3 hours in that endgame, with me trying to find the Win.  I must say that after earlier slip-ups, GM Pavel did a good job of defending accurately and making it difficult for me.  After we reached 40 moves and gained additional time, I was now replenished with energy.  I was sure I could finish this chess game favorably.  But unfortunately, no matter how hard I calculated, I couldn’t find a Win.  After 6 hours I came up short with a Draw.  

At about 10pm, Akshat and GM Pavel were
still going at our chess match

When we signed the notation sheets at the end, I was experiencing mixed feelings.  On one side, I was feeling disappointed for not winning.  It was the biggest chess game of my life so far, and I had a 2600 Russian GM on the ropes with everything in my control.  But it didn’t end the way I visualized.  On the other side, I was feeling relieved and happy that I managed to outplay him even though the result was a Draw.  This proved to me that I could take on anyone in Chess, no matter how good s/he was ;-)  

The rest of the chess tournament had its typical ups-and-downs.  Overall, good experience.  The organizers were nice, particularly IM Martha Fierro and Nadia.  In one of the tournament publications I was referred to as the Tournament Tiger.  Grrrr!  :-)

The official picture from the tournament publication of ‘Akshat the Tiger’ :-)

At the end of the tournament we were talking to GM Ivan Lopez who saw my first game as he was sitting next to me.  He congratulated me on the game and told me next time I need to Win.  He mentioned that he just loves the game and doesn’t like to prepare too much before the game.  The best thing is to think at the board, and not clutter your head before the game with different analysis and opening reviews.  Now here is some good advise from an experienced top-class Chess player.  Just go and play Chess.  That’s GM Ivan Lopez’s style and it works well for him.  Thanks Ivan!

Akshat with the winner of Chess tournament in Forni, GM Ivan Lopez

This tournament concluded my Italian leg of Chess tournaments, and I went on to other countries to play Chess.  I love Italia and I hope I’ll be back soon to play Chess.
________________________________
In the pictures, I write my name along with the name of fellow players.  So instead of saying “GM Lopez and me,” I say “GM Lopez and Akshat,” etc.  Can you guess why?  Well, I do that because search engines will simply pick up the image with the tag “GM Lopez and me.”  That “me” is Akshat, which is never mentioned.  Now we know names of all characters in the pictures.  Problem solved!  :-)

Akshat Chandra and Axel Rombaldoni, a brilliant young Italian player.
I remember Axel was 6/6 at the World Junior 2011.  Wow!
Akshat Chandra, with the smart and helpful IM Martha Fierro
- doesn’t Martha have the glimpse of The Great One in Chess ‘Susan Polgar’
My Quest is a long road…but I’m ready to RUN to the end!
Akshat at the award ceremony with the special guests from Italy
Winter’s must be beautiful, with snow-capped peaks
A light moment at the restaurant – what was that, a Rabbit for Lunch!
No Kiddin’!

Hard Loss…Now What?
Recovering from a Chess Loss.

I‘m sure if one has played Chess long enough, we’ve all experienced “tough losses.”  In fact, I would venture to say that if you haven’t had a tough loss yet, then you haven’t played Chess long enough.  It happens to everyone and at all levels.

What are tough losses?  There can be many versions in Chess – losing a completely Winning position; losing a dead Drawn position; being swept off the board; missing a win when you were lost the whole game and then had an opportunity for comeback which you bungle, are some examples.  Unfortunately, I’ve experienced all four of the above examples in my relatively short tenure as a Chess player.   


One time when I lost a completely winning chess game was in an unrated club tournament.  I lost an exchange up position against a 225 ELO point lower rated opponent.  I had about 10 different ways for a win, but I went for something that looked fancy.  I didn’t do the deep calculation.  It was a horrible blunder and I resigned next move.  Aargh!  The lesson I learnt from that was to always Keep It Simple.  Simple moves most of the time are smart moves.  The chess game rewards you for your win, not how you win.  R
ecently, I lost a simple Drawn position in a chess tournament in Austria.  I was playing against the World Senior Chess Champion, GM Vladimir Okhotnik, and made a plain blunder of what was a straight-forward Draw.  It hurt because I had played strong for the entire game (you can read more about this in the September posting on Chess in Braunau, Austria).  The time when I got completely swept off my feet was again in the same chess tournament in Austria.  It was just a bad game from the very beginning.  I just couldn’t play right.  The time where I missed a win after being lost for majority of the game was in the Czech Open 2012.  In my excitement at a chance to win a poorly played game, I made an incomplete calculation and forgot to first secure the Draw before trying for the Win.  An opportunity to make amends for a weak game, but I let it slip away. 

Such games are very hard to accept.  
They linger in the back of your head, haunting you.  Yes, the chess tournament could have turned out differently if I had won; Yes, I could have been paired with an IM or GM if I had won; Yes, I could have assured myself of winning my rating category, etc.  These thoughts are psychologically draining.  But it’s hard to Move On, as any Chess player will tell even though we realize this is what needs to be done now.

Nonetheless, we have to deliberately learn to Move On.  In most cases, there is still a chess tournament to play.  We have to realize the next chess game is also worth the same point as the one where we had a ‘tough loss.’  Sitting in the room thinking about the loss doesn’t help.  We need to flush it out of our memory for the time being and not waste any more energy thinking about it.  And please don’t start analyzing the tough loss right away, if you’ve another round to play.


As you can see from instances above, I’ve been in such situations multiple times where I’d to deliberately Move On.  I will share with you what helps me.  The best thing for me is to go out for a walk (if the weather allows), and have some of my favorite food!  Something sweet like an ice cream helps or a dessert of your choice.  Don’t wait for after dinner to try your dessert.  Have it now!  If there is time, watch a funny show or a little bit of a funny movie.  Mr. Bean, Zack & Cody, Drake & Josh – whatever gets u tickled.  Anything to get your mind off the loss, or at least make it fade away for the moment.  When the next round chess pairing is out, it’s a bit easier now to Move On since we now have preparation to do that will keep us busy.  But I feel it’s important to do that mind-flush before. 


If you observe, often times when someone has a crushing loss, s/he loses the next round too – many times without a fight.  It happened with me in the National Challengers Chess 2011, which was a qualification tournament for the Indian National Chess Championship.  After a lackluster start, I found my game and was kind of unstoppable.  I had a great streak going with a Win, Draw, Win, Win against higher rated and very experienced players.  In my next match, I had a high-rated IM on the ropes.  But then I let him get away after several weak moves.  The match was a Draw, in what was an easy Win.  You can see that game on Monroi - R10 – Chandra vs V, by clicking here.  I was extremely disappointed, and since I was a ‘beginner’ in terms of how to deal with such a loss, I lost not only the next round but also 2 rounds after that without a fight – 3 rounds total.  It was a very sad moment because if I had won that game, I’m sure I would have kept up the momentum and had a good chance to qualify for the Indian National Chess Championship. 


Many times I have observed a seasoned player with a tough loss will take a quick Draw in the next round, even when the opponent is lower rated.  This is a strategic move many times.  You take a Draw to soothe the brain, not make it work very hard, and to avoid the risk of another loss.  But such an option may not always be available.  So we have to boost ourselves psychologically to perform well in the next game. 


To summarize, after a tough loss in a Chess game we need to get out and do things that can take our mind off the loss.  Eat your favorite food, watch a movie or show, don’t forget an ice cream; whatever makes you relax.  Just don’t sit and dwell on it!  The above ideas have worked for me.  You will have to find your own comforting things.  I hope just thinking about this helps you plan better when you encounter such a situation.  I wish more Chess players will write their experiences – it helps others learn.


I apologize for the lengthy post.  Hope I didn’t put you to sleep :)   If you have anything to say or share, please feel free to write comments.  Au revoir!

Chess in the Paradise of Ortisei!

Our next tournament in June was Server 24 Chess in Ortisei – St. Ulrich. Ortisei is a beautiful small township nestled in a high valley and surrounded by mountains. A green emerald guarded by glistening and rugged peaks with long snow fingers.


It’s no Brochure picture. I took it. I was there!

Traveling in Italy is fairly easy, with a great train & air network, well supported by bus routes (and we used them all). We flew into Verona airport in the evening and took a bus to Verona Station. After spending a night in Verona, we took the train to Bolzano the next day, and thereafter a bus to Ortisei. Everything went real smooth, and we were in our hotel by early afternoon. I think the walk up the mountainside to reach the hotel took the most time :-)

Soaking in the peaceful view

Ortisei sits at an elevation of about 1300 meters. Surprisingly, the weather was warm and pleasant. We were expecting this to be coldest point of our Italian journey and had packed warm clothes. Well, the weather in the mountains can change fairly fast as we discovered and it did turn fairly cold on some evenings. In fact, as you will see we ended up experiencing warm sunny weather to cold weather, to even freezing rain and snow when we went up the mountains.

Collecting my thoughts in front of the Dolomites 

Looking out from the balcony of our hotel room, which was wedged into the side of the mountain was a truly fantastic experience! Such lush greenery rising on the slopes all the way to the top. Then there were high, rugged brown Dolomite mountain range with snow-capped peaks and their snowy fingers snaking down. During the night, the twinkling lights of the city lit up the valley. There were many a evenings we spent on the balcony eating our dinner and enjoying the peaceful scenery.

The Cenro or Downtown view 

Ortisei and the broader region of Val Gardena are huge tourist attractions due to their scenic beauty. As a result, most of the buildings are hotels run by generations of families. What left us in a huff-and-puff was the walking around. As the city rises along the slopes, there is a lot of walking-up one has to do. Since the city is on an elevation, walking around can be exhausting since most paths are steep, but walking down isn’t a problem as usual :). We just walked around the city for the rest of the afternoon, getting comfortable with the place. I loved the fact that there were lot of pizzeria’s, and what better place to have pizza then in Italy! 


Another thing striking about Val Gardena is its culture of wood carving. The carvings are real masterpieces and wood seems to appear like clay in the hands of these artisians. This spirit of Val Gardena was captured in the unique trophy.

A picture with the magnificent wood carved trophy

Moving on to the Chess tournament, it was much bigger than the previous one I played, and there were many GM’s and IM’s. The chess tournament venue was fantastic – it was the hall at the Cultural Center in Ortisei, and on display throughout was a “smaller” replica of a famous head carving of a project called “Movement.” The real one is about 20ft high.

The playing Hall with “Woody” our giant head friend. 
Appropriate art for a Chess tournament :-) 

The first round I was paired with a GM. Maybe it was time to continue where I left off with GM Naumkin!  Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, and I played a rather weak game, missing chances to equalize and played kind of uninspiringly.

Here we go! 

After prevailing in the next round against a lower rated player, I was back to playing a titled player, this time an IM. It was some sort of a Catalan hybrid. It was really complicated and there was a point when I had two potential moves. One led to equality and the other one lost it for me. I picked the wrong one :(

The following round I was paired with a 2051, who played in a manner which my chess coach refers to as “bunker chess” – openings which give the opponent an indisputable advantage, but with no real weaknesses to play on.  After improving my pieces I went for a Kingside attack.  But I had managed my time so poorly that when I was about to make the decisive breakthrough I was rushed into making a poor move which nearly lost the game for me.  The opponent was a bit worried about playing me further, and he offered a Draw which I accepted.  The key thing was not to push any further and recognizing the position on the board was not the best for me at that time.  I didn’t spend too much time worrying that the opponent was lower rated to me – a lesson from the past.

The customary handshake at the start of the game with Erhard Trefzer  

Round 5 had me paired with one of the organizers of the chess tournament. He was also rated 2150 and very experienced. It was an interesting game where he secured an advantage but then misplayed. At that point I became a pawn up. Later on I discovered that I also missed a quicker win. As the game continued, I managed to bog him down further. Just when I thought I was winning a clear exchange with a fork, I overlooked that he could save his rooks by swinging one over to the King-side and threatening mate! Luckily for me, my experienced opponent was in time pressure and he misplayed allowing me to finally close it out.  A long tiring chess game which could have been shorter if I hadn’t missed the elementary Qa5!  Also, I would suspect that it must have been fatiguing for my opponent to both play and be involved in daily organizing-related activities.


Akshat Chandra playing with Ruben Bernardi 

In the sixth round I had another chance to play a titled player – an IM rated 2420. I liked an idea I found during the game and I developed a good position without much problem. However, in hindsight, I made an idiotic decision by opening up a good position. The chess board became favorable for him as my knights turned fairly clumsy and awkwardly positioned, while his pieces could coordinate much faster. I was again in time pressure and so I set a little trick. The trap was that if he takes my Pawn with his Knight, I have the amazing Rh8, which would win the game. Play teetered on and he became Pawn up, but I still had chances. He then made a mistake and I had a brilliant opportunity to Draw. Rh8!!  Something that we see in chess studies. Elementary! Once again, I missed it. But that wasn’t the end of the game. We went into a rook endgame. It should have been a Draw with correct play. I defended accurately till a point, until I slipped in time pressure. There were far too many lines to calculate in limited time. It was sad since I was playing well but losing in tenable games.


Akshat playing with IM Ayssio 
Playing with Giulio Simeone

In round 7 I was paired with a 1972 rated player Guilio Simeone, and I lucked out after he missed a strong continuation (as Guilio pointed out in the comments section). From there on I got the initiative and won fairly comfortably. The penultimate round was with a titled player again – an FM with a 2370 rating. Another chance to create some upsets. The opponent made a very dubious push in the pawn center and I immediately grabbed the upper hand. I was Pawn up and just had to get my queen side pawns rolling to close it out. I moved c4 expecting him to set up some sort of blockade on the dark squares. But to my amazement he played b5?? hanging a piece. I responded with c5! which wins his Bishop and from there on it was just a matter of technique, and finally a win!.

Akshat Chandra Playing with FM Alexander Bertagnolli

The Final Round now! I played with IM Kenny Solomon (2429) who was the highest rated chess player from his country – South Africa. I found some accurate middle-game moves which gave me an advantage.  Kenny got into significant time pressure and from there on I just kept playing moves which forced him to make erroneous decisions.  When we both made the additional 30-minute time control, the situation stood like this – we both had a Rook, a Bishop, and a Knight.  But I was two pawns up.  Carefully I proceeded forward and gradually converted my material advantage into a delightful win against a strong chess player.  

I finished the tournament with 5.5/9, and performing above my rating level. It was a very nice way to cap off the tournament and a good sign that something big was coming…. 


Akshat Chandra playing with Kenny Solomon under the 
watchful eye of a few chess lovers and of course, Woody :-)  

I came 16th overall in the tournament, and also won the U-14 prize. I was happy. 

Akshat with Mr. Moroder, sponsor, co-organizer and 
my cheerful supporter, receiving the U-14 cup 

The chess tournament in Ortisei was absolutely fantastic – it was well-organized, professional and the organizers were warm and caring.  I made many friends.  One of them, Ezio, could not speak a word of English (well, maybe “hi”), but he became my biggest cheer leader.  Every time he will see me, he will start talking effusively in Italian to me.  Full of encouragement and love.  What a great guy!

For so many reasons, I would love an opportunity to play in Ortisei again.


Akshat with Ezio, the technical expert, and Gerhard, our Arbiter. 
Two really nice people. Ezio has become my Manager in Italy :-) 
Sharing a Smile with friends Klaus and Ruben.
Italy has created a lot of good memories
A famous Ortiseian and a helpful guide from the tourist office 
A beautiful herd of horses at an elevation of 2000 meters.
Keeping my safe distance!
The ‘Golden’ Beauty! 
Here comes the Snow!
Reacting at my blunder!
Reflecting together! Was e4 the right opening…hmm!  
Thanks for visiting & I love Italia! 

Gallipolli – Let the Guns Boom!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and now for the first time in the last two weeks I’ve got some time to share my experiences. I have playing in a tournament (Salento Chess 2012) close to the beautiful city of Gallipolli, located on the southern tip of Italy.  You may know the region for a ferocious sea and land battle during World War I known as the Battle of Gallipoli.  For me it was a long journey.  Since I was flying from India this time, I spent a lot of time in the air – I first traveled to Munich (8 hours), and then Munich to Milan (~1 1/2 hours), and then Milan to Brindisi (1 1/2 hours).  But I wasn’t done yet.  Finally, a van ride from Brindisi to Gallipoli (1 1/4 hours).  We reached the hotel at 11 pm, capping about 18 hours of a long and tiring journey from the time I left home.


Waiting in Munich
More waiting …in Milan

The tournament had a small and strong group of players.  My starting rank was 14/24. There were quite a few titled players like IM’s and GM’s.  The wooden DGT boards were fantastic as usual, and there was live telecast for all games.  It gave me a sense that I was a top level player :)
For the first round that I played with Duilio Collutiis, a 2513 IM but with GM strength rating, I didn’t have much prep time.  But as it turned out I didn’t need to prep anything. He usually plays irregular openings against lower rated, and so it is hard to predict any opening preference.  Sure enough he played an irregular set up.  I felt like I had good chances since he was playing slowly and not really doing anything.  I managed to lock the queenside which was good since that was where his play was.  I prepared my pieces for a kingside attack and my prospects were looking good until I blundered with Qc7.  After blunders from both sides he then won in a few moves. It was sad but I knew that I hadn’t been outplayed. 

Opening Round – Small Group of Strong Players

The next game I was playing a WFM who was lower rated at 2027.  It was a sharp position out of the opening and I sacrificed a pawn to open files and castle Queen side.  I managed to land a knight on c6 but I couldn’t make anything out of it.  Suddenly I blundered and realized she had a win.  I looked away from the board hoping she wouldn’t see it. Fortunately, she didn’t!  I corrected my mistake the next move and kept the pressure on till she finally blundered.  Phew!  


Playing with WFM Arnetta Maria Teresa
Playing with IM Mario Lanzani
Playing with IM Bellia Fabrizio
Final Round with GM Igor Naumkin

After muddling through a few more games, I finally played a GM in the final round.  I was playing Black, and I defended tenaciously.  There was a moment when the GM had a win.  But he missed it – I learnt about it afterwards.  Phew!  The game lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours.  The last game of the tournament.  I got to a point where there was a possibility for me to win.  But I needed more time, otherwise I felt it was too risky to play in time pressure.  We agreed to a Draw.  A smart finish to the tournament I thought.  Next time I hope I can prevail over a GM.  
The winner of the tournament was German Super-GM Igor Khenkin, with a FIDE rating of 2670 points.

With Super GM Igor Khenkin – winner of the tourney

 

Coming from the sea – Poseidion, Guardian of the high seas :-)

The tournament was at a resort outside Gallipoli.  The weather was warm during the day and cool in the darker hours.  The beach and sea were very inviting, though the water was a bit cool.  That didn’t stop me from wading in it.  I enjoyed every chance I could to jump in the water.  


Perhaps the best part of the tourney was the moments I spent with other players, and the friends I made.  Great memories to cherish for a long, long time!

My little friend, Andrei – a soon-to-be Chess Star :-)
Analysis with with good friends Jergen from Denmark & Maik from Germany
Friends, Football and the MVP Black Shoe :-)

Playing with Maik under the watchful eye of Wanda

Playing a friendly blitz with super-fast IM Bjorn Thorfinnsson from Iceland
With Iceland friends Hilmir and Vignir;
as you can make out, they’re Hungry for Sun :-)
With Midonet Matthieu from Martinique (his first FIDE tournament was the great one in Gibraltor- Wow, what a tiger!)  btw, if you don’t know where Martinique is click here.  You’ll not be the first one :-)
With charming organizer Matteo Zoldan for Best U16 medal

The lead organizer Matteo Zoldan was great.  He was very helpful and cheerful, and during free time kept everyone busy with something or the other – be it excursion trips, chess sessions, soccer or tennis.  He has a Chess Projects company that is working to spread Chess in schools in Italy.  Noble objective.  Thanks and great job, Matteo!    


Finally, would like to thank IM Pierluigi Piscopo for taking many hours of teaching sessions with some players after the tournament and showing us some really neat stuff.

World Championship Match Game 3

Game 3 was a lively affair, with Vishy coming tantalizingly close to a win! It looked like it would begin as a Gruenfeld but Vishy deviated from Game 1 with 3.f3!  A rather rare line at top level these days.  Surprisingly, Gelfand wasn’t fazed by this and blitzed out his preparation till move 16, sacrificing a pawn in the process. Anand consolidated accurately and soon after Gelfand started to go astray with a dubious plan.  Once again Anand found the best series of moves and traded down even further to a rook endgame.  Vishy was low on time however and decided to play it safe and accept a draw.  Personally I feel that Vishy could have played on a little longer without much risk.  Game 4 is ongoing and it looks like it’s headed to yet another draw.  Things might not be decided yet because it seems that Gelfand has got a strong spark of ambition and will push hard for a while.  Mentally this is an exhausting game at the highest level, and the World Championship title would further amplify the stress and exhaustion.  Anand’s deep experience on the world stage will come in very handy once we enter the second-half.  Visit  http://www.chessdom.com/anand-gelfand-live/ to follow the game, and visit the official site at http://moscow2012.fide.com/en/ for webcam with live commentary. I’m still waiting for that e4 game :).

World Championship Rest Day

After two games the World Championship Match sees it first rest day which the players will use to recuperate and refresh their preparation. The score is level at 1-1 after 2 hard fought draws. In the first game Gelfand employed the Gruenfeld. This was an interesting psychological decision, since Vishy himself  had opted for it in his first game against Topalov in the 2010 WCC match. Anand chose a quiet sideline where Gelfand was able to equalize quite easily. The position steered itself to an endgame where maybe Gelfand had a slight edge, but it wasn’t enough to push on and so they agreed to a draw. In the second game Vishy prepared a novelty which nullified Gelfand’s advantage. A drawn endgame was reached and the players signed the peace treaty. A good steady start to the match for both sides, building up the momentum. Don’t miss the action of Game 3 tomorrow at 3 o clock local time where both sides will be back with fresh ideas!

The Big One! World Championship 2012 – Anand Vs Gelfand

Well it’s approximately 40 hours before the World Chess Championship 2012 match begins!  The current champion is GM Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand from India, who will try to retain his title against the Israeli GM Boris Gelfand!  


The overall score between them in previous encounters is 40/69, including rapid and blitz, in favor of Vishy.  As a result 88% people in a poll I saw voted that the World Champion will defend his title successfully.  I feel that people are not appreciating what Gelfand has accomplished to get to the World Championship game.  He picked up a hot streak at the right time, defeating Mamedyarov, Kamsky and Grishchuk, all 2730+ players in the Candidates Match.  These guys were no push-overs.  Boris wasn’t given a free pass to the final.  He earned it.  So let’s not diminish the player and the game.
People have to understand that it’s the present that counts – the ‘NOW’ – not the PAST.  Vishy wouldn’t care much about the past.  He will prepare like he is playing a worthy opponent.  It’s what these players can do now that counts.  


Moving on, we’ve usually seen 1.d4 in World Championship matches, which Vishy countered with the Gruenfeld in his WCC match with Topalov.  Will he stay with that or has he prepared something else?  Gelfand has rarely played 1.e4 so will he use it as a surprise.  Perhaps!  Personally, I hope there’s at least one e4 game :)  The Match begins on May 11, at 3pm local Moscow time (7am EST,4:30pm IST).  You can tune in at  http://www.anand-gelfand.com/   to follow the games.  Good Luck to both players and may the better chess player win!  I do hope it’s Vishy!  No disrespect to Boris!

Ups and Downs in Thailand!

  Bangkok Open at Dusit Thani Hotel 2012  

Bangkok!  Yes, that’s where I recently finished a tournament.  In April, the weather was hot-pleasant.  Not humid.  Of course, you’ve to watch out for the water festival of Songkran from 13th to 15th.   The people are wonderful, at least the ones I met :-)  Calm, happy and helpful!
This Thai tourney was a classic example of a roller-coaster tournament for me.  It started off with me barely scraping past a FIDE unrated player.  Phew!  
Well what do you know!  Next round I was paired with a GM.  Yes!  I prepared hard for the match, confident I’ll play a good game.  I was doing well up until the point I had a tactical oversight.  I was upset with my performance.  Keeping the game equal for most of the time and then losing because of a small oversight is something that should not happen at my level.  It shows one has to remain completely alert till the very end – whether the game takes three, four or five hours.
After a fairly comfortable win in Round 3, lightning struck once again and I was paired with another GM.  This was just swell I thought.  Another chance!  The game was a complicated affair after I played a pawn sacrifice line which gave me compensation since I had better development and more space.  The game teetered on, until finally I began to feel that I’ve got something.  He was pretty much bogged down and I felt I could slow-squeeze him.   Unfortunately, I overlooked a possible good opponent move, which he played that undermined my pawn on e4.  Then the pressure of time began for both of us, and after some rapid moves we ended up agreeing to a Draw.  I was ecstatic.  My account had opened with GM’s.  This was my first score against one, even a Draw was great, and it’ll surely remain a  memorable moment.  
The next two rounds were heartbreaking.  In round 5, I was better against an IM but had another simple oversight.  It’s even worse when you move the piece and immediately realize that it’s a blunder.  Aargh!  Round 6 was the worst and it’s still haunting me.  After outplaying a 2300, I had my chance but couldn’t calculate a  Rook Sacrifice, which would have been a fantastic move.  I saw deep but not deep enough, which was the key.  As fate would have it I blundered and ended up losing.  I felt as if iron bars had just dropped on me.  My heart turned to stone and the sun disappeared from the sky.  What a sinking feeling.  Two unfortunate losses left me hurt.  Really hurt!  To cheer me up my wonderful mother and brother took me to Burger King which made me feel somewhat better.  Nothing like a big greasy burger to lift your spirits, eh!  Well, the “Burger-Boost” worked.  Try it next time.  


Before the Round – all smiles

I got back on track in Round 7 with a victory against a Chinese girl who was rated 1990.  Next round was a hard-fought win over 4 hours.  Two wins and I was elated.  The feeling when you get after you win is something so unreal and hard to explain.  You’ve to feel it to know it.


The last round I was paired with a FM from Austria who was rated 2289.  I was determined to win, as it would make up for at least some of my missed opportunities.  I emerged from the opening with a clear plus, but there were so many possibilities and pretty ironically I didn’t chose the right one.  I fell into a slightly worse position.  I then opened up the game which helped me to develop my pieces more fluently.  I cemented my knight on d5 which acted as a slab of iron – powerful and unmovable.  I just kept the pressure with normal moves and eventually he was forced to trade down into a piece-down endgame. I won the final game without too many problems.  Three consecutive wins to finish the tournament!

With my brother Addy, he helped lifting the bags :-)

I felt I played well against all higher-rated players.  I know the mistakes I made were avoidable.  I’ll remember.  Making mistakes is part of growing stronger.  But you become stronger only if you learn from these mistakes.  Work on them.  Such is life!  But focus on the positives too, and there were many for me in this tourney.  I do have my first Draw with a GM to enjoy! 


The tournament was professionally organized.  Everything looked perfect.  Everything was perfect – the tables, seating, environment.  But I felt a bit of personal touch and warmth would have made the tourney even better.  It was too business-like for me.  I met Hou Yifan once again, which was great.  I had a picture taken with her in Delhi in 2011 when she visited for a tourney.  This time I got her autograph on that picture.  Wow!  I already feel stronger :-)


My Cheering Squad – my lovely Mom and my hungry  brother :-)
With my buddy brother 
Goofing off at the Dusit Thani
Now where did my opponent hide!
Time to have some Fun!


When Should We Accept Draws?

Hey!  I wasn’t feeling all too well and so I thought I’ll blog and share an interesting psychological situation with you guys.  A big dilemma that comes across a player is whether in a game s/he should accept a Draw or not.  While playing lower-rated players our ego tends to get in the way and we decline Draw offers from  lower-rated (lower FIDE rating) players.  However, when a higher-rated (higher FIDE rating) player offers a Draw we feel a temptation to accept it.  I think it’s because lingering somewhere in our subconscious mind, we  feel that the higher-rated player is better than us and a Draw is a good outcome.  Both these mentalities must be changed as it can affect the final result of the match.  


Here are two examples where these situations occurred with me.  The first example took place last month when I was playing an opponent with lower rating.  Material (pieces on board) was “even.”  However I felt that I had a Win.  In time pressure I lost that Win and desperate not to Draw since the opponent was lower-rated I blundered and lost. 


The “lower-rated psychology” changed the result dramatically and it ruined my momentum in the tournament.  The other example was when I was playing a higher rated.  He was about a year older then me and higher rated by about 200 points.  Possessing more knowledge about this particular board position then my opponent, I easily outplayed him.  He was completely bogged down and so he offered me a Draw.  I must have had that “higher-rated psychology” going through my head for I gladly accepted a Draw despite a superior position.  


I learnt my lessons from those games and now ask myself some questions to determine whether I should take a Draw or not.  If it’s a lower rated –  Question 1) Is he really gonna blunder now in an elementary Drawn position after defending well  for so long?  Question 2)  Do I have any risk of losing?  I then study the position carefully and if I deduce there’s no risk to lose I continue playing on for a couple of more moves.  With higher rated I ask myself – If the opponent was in my position would he s/he accept the Draw offer?  Most of the time the answer is ‘No.’  


However, these feelings of pride and instant gratification should not be treated flippantly.  They entice use to push on with lower-rated players, and accept a Draw with higher-rated players.  This “lower-rated and higher-rated psychology” should disappear from our heads for it can lead to imprudent decisions and seriously affect the outcome of the game and tournament thus compromising the  desired result.  Wow long sentence huh :).  In essence, We should make decisions Based On the Position, NOT THE PLAYER.  We have to deliberately train our emotions, to do our best.


Well that’s all there is on my mind today, and sorry for a bit of  lengthy musing :).  Hope I didn’t bore u guys!  Adieu for now and till the next blog!

Hot in Vizag!

Vizag.  That was my next destination in November 2011, following the World Amateur Chess in  Antalya, Turkey.  Vizag is a bustling port city on the eastern coast of India, and about 2 hours flight from Delhi.  It was fairly hot and humid in the city.  Vizag was a GM caliber FIDE tournament and would last 8 days.  We were booked for a hotel right across the venue – so it was rather convenient.  The organization was quite efficient with most of the booking and confirmation work done online, and instant  updates on confirmed list of players.  That made this tournament stand out.

The first day had  two rounds.  My first round was with an unrated and I won without any problems with Black color in an opening called the Colle System. My second round was with a  higher rated.  At a rating of 2292, the opponent was about 280  rating points above me.  He played the open variation in the Ruy Lopez and we moved standard theory for a few more moves.  Thereafter, I kind of hit a wall as I was not familiar with this line of play.  I made some inaccuracies and fell behind drastically on the clock time by ~50 minutes.  My position was gradually deteriorating and I finally resigned.  The next day there was only 1 round.  I was paired with a lower-rated player and I won quite easily. 

Another double-round day followed. The first match was with a Fide Master (FM) from Bangladesh who was rated 2335.  I prepared hard, and was confident I would prevail.  I was outplayed.  I lost the game.  But more important, it felt like I was swept away.  It was shocking.  What had I done wrong?  Herein lies the crushing truth.  You can never know too much in Chess.  The game has a way of showing you that there is much more to learn.  The learning never stops.  And after 4 hours of play you come short.  I was emotionally drained.  I had prepared hard, had the confidence, but it didn’t work out.  And the game expects you to carry on with another round, sometime as quickly as in a couple of hours.  There was still a tournament to play.  I had to show grit.  I had to pick myself up, dust-off and move on.  I decided to flush this out of my head and focus on the next round coming-up shortly.  

In the afternoon round that day, I was paired with a 1671 and I won fairly easily.  When I got back to the hotel that evening, I had to relax to wash-off a mentally and physically draining day.  I watched some television.  After an hour, when I got on my computer I noticed the pairings had come out for the morning round.  

I was paired with an International Master (IM), which is one title below a Grandmaster (GM) title.  Wow, I said to myself!  I get to play one of the biggies now.  I’ve always yearned to do play with them.  Titled players are special to play with.  Besides the challenge of outplaying a smart player, one can also learn so much from the game.  The opponent had been playing Chess for a long time and was very experienced.  I was happy that I had an IM to play with.  There was a surge of energy.  I couldn’t wait for the next morning, and I prepared a sharp and attacking line.  

The opponent started off by playing normal theory moves.  He was moving fairly quickly, and I figured he still must be playing from his preparation.  I then saw a move which would open the center and give me good winning chances.  However, I saw he had a counter defense where after I didn’t see much of an advantage.  Aargh!  I miscalculated and instead opted for an inferior move with Nb3, which was passive and made me lose control of the game.  Now the problem was that while his moves were simple and strong, I was forced to just react to his threats without being able to develop my own attack.  After some awkward defending moves on my part, my opponent moved his Knight to h7 threatening f6 which would trap my Bishop.  I pushed forward with f5, giving some retreat space for my bishop. He took the Pawn, I evened up by capturing his Pawn, and he moved his Queen to e7 hitting my g5 Pawn.  I figured that defending that g5 pawn doesn’t give me much prospect for a good position and I decided to sacrifice it.  The opponent took that pawn.  But wait! That pawn came with a price.  Now his e6 pawn was vulnerable and his king was a bit exposed.  Time control read 10 minutes for me and 21 minutes for the opponent.  It was a big decision point for the opponent.  He could sacrifice his knight; I would take; he’d use his rook to take my knight; I would take his rook; and after this exchange he would finally take my knight on d4.  If the opponent had pursued this sequence of moves, the only way for me to stay in the game was to give checks and force a draw.  He thought for 17 minutes and was getting ready to move.  I held my breath and shut my eyes.  Time stood still for me, till I heard him press the clock.  Slowly, and nervously I opened my eyes.  He opted to play it safe and had swung his queen over to c5.  Time control now read 4 minutes for him. Anxiously I searched for a way to defend against his threat of Nxa3.  My chest started becoming heavier and heavier.  I thought I was going to lose.  Nerves had to be held.  Then I saw it.  Oh, what a sweet move.  Confidently I played e5, after which he resigned.  1-0.  I had won.  We signed the sheets and I left the venue with my mother.  What happened she whispered.  I won I whispered back.  When we got back to the hotel room I couldn’t hold back my elation.  WOO HOO!  I yelled jumping up and down on the bed.  I phoned my dad. “Hello Akshat, he said”. “Yeah, Hi Dad!  You know what Dad, a couple of years from now I’ll be saying that I beat my first IM in Vizag.”  I’m sure my Dad must have touched the ceiling that day.  

After I cooled off by watching some television, I connected online. The pairings had come. Another IM.  This one was 2338.  I prepared hard for the match and turned in for the night at 11 pm.  Oh, how special it is to beat an IM!  As I lay in bed I thought about tomorrow’s game and what I would play.  The next day I took my seat at the table, prepared and confident.  He played what I had expected him too.  The London System.  It was a hard tense game where finally he made a mistake and I took the upper hand.  At one moment I thought I had bungled up the win, but all was well.  We went into a queen endgame where I was a pawn up.  My technique was immaculate and I took the full point.  Back-to-back beating IMs.  The stuff dreams are made of.  Was this my Field of Dreams?  My elation was beyond any words.  The time had come.  I was finally starting to bring down the big kahunas.  Keep your composure I told myself.  There was still one more round that day.  

After a little rest in the hotel room, I went online to check the pairings, and found that I was playing another  IM – this time a 2402!  This IM was even stronger, and had a long list of achievements.  But it doesn’t matter who you are.  What matters is how you play the game on the board at the time.  It’s “now” that counts.  Excitedly I prepared for him, telling myself I can bring him down.  I was playing Black.  We reached the tournament venue 10 minutes early.  I sat down at my table and visualized how will the game flow.  The clock struck 4pm.  “Start your games!” the arbiter announced.  The IM showed up 10 minutes late.  We shook hands and he moved.  He opted for the Schlieeman line against my Ruy Lopez with f5.  The game soon became tactically sharp and slowly I began to outplay him.  His position began to gradually deteriorate until finally he came impatient and lashed out dubiously.  There it was.  All so clear, the winning combination.  But Lord of Lords, I missed it and played an inferior move.  The win faded away just as quickly as it had given me a glimpse of it.  After a few moves, I reluctantly agreed to a Draw.  

A game I should have comfortably won, after outplaying the opponent, ended in a Draw.  I was crushed.  Such is life!.  It a’int yours till the final whistle blows!  All those dreams of getting to the top and playing with GM’s vanished.  I was unable to rebound from this heartbreaking Draw and lost the next two rounds without a fight.  In the final round I managed to hold another IM to a Draw.  

It was a great tournament for me.  It showed that I can compete well with IM’s and I was up there with the top guys.  I was a rated player for less than 2 years, and I was competing well with players who had been rated for over 10 years.  The tournament also taught me that I need to be psychologically stronger by rebounding in games after disappointing Draws and Losses.  This is easier said than done.  But it is achievable.  Overall, a great experience for me!  Yes, Vizag was hot and special!

Lifting the Cup!
Victory in FIDE U2200.

Akshat Delhi Open

My next tournament after Vizag was in Delhi itself. A U2200 Delhi Open Championship from Dec 07 to Dec 12. Players from all over India participated and even one from abroad. Coming off a satisfying performance in Vizag GM Open, I had the confidence and eagerness to go out and win the tournament. You can feel it, sense it.

I was starting the tournament with a 2012 rating.  The first 3 rounds were quite easy (an unrated, a 1365, and a 1661).  In the fourth round I was again paired with a lower rated, which was not a surprise due to the majority of lower rated and unrated players.  I was playing Black.  It should have been a comfortable win based on the rating difference, but the opponent played a conservative Drawish line which made it very difficult for me to win.  Needing to win at all costs, I played aggressive chess, countering his passive and defensive play.  I captured his Pawns on the King side, and he reciprocated by taking my Pawns on the King side.  That left us with a Rook, a Knight, and 4 pawns each.  The battle was on.  In essence, it was a race – whose Pawn will reach the other end and Queen first.  Relying on my endgame skills, I managed to slow down the rate of advancement of his pawns.  I was able to draw the opponent out from his comfort zone – the excessive defensive mode – and that is exactly where I wanted him.  The opponent realized  that the “sit-back” Draw had slipped away and he had to play actively if he wanted to avoid losing.  He made a bold decision by advancing his Pawn to b6 (two squares away from the Queening square).  I captured a different Pawn, followed by his Knight, which led him to push his pawn further to b7 – now only 1 square from Queening.  After some forced checks he made the decisive mistake, which led me to sacrifice my Rook for his Queening Pawn on b7, and pushing my own Queening Pawn to f2 – thereafter  it was an inevitable Queening.  A very hard win!  But I got the job done.

Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat 3

Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat 4

The next game I was matched with a player from Uganda!  He was higher rated at 2111.  It was an uneventful Anti – Marshall and we signed the peace treaty in a drawn endgame.  Now after 5 rounds there was only 1 person with a full score and 11 people, including myself following behind with 4.5.  

The 6th round had me matched with a 2118 rated player.  I played Paulsen and he opted for the f4 line.  We castled opposite wings and his problem was that he never got his King side attack started.  Meanwhile I leisurely continued with normal attacking moves.  When just at the cusp of making a decisive breakthrough I erred, perhaps in my haste or lapse of concentration.  This allowed the opponent to trade Queens and suddenly my promising attack had vanished.  Oh, the gnawing emotions of coming up empty-handed made me re-energize and I came up with another plan.  The opponent in order to save the game and play accurately had consumed a lot of time.  So now he was getting low on time (5 min) and consequently inaccuracies from his side were inevitable.  I pressured his weak Pawn, the only shelter for his King.  His inaccuracies began when he moved his King to the A file (corner most file), and the errors kept mounting from there.  I opened that file by exchanging my A pawn (pawn on the corner file) with his b2 pawn (his King’s only shelter).  He was down to 1 minute and when that happens, your mind nearly locks-down.  This time was no exception.  I converted the game into a winning point fairly easily after that and went into the following round with a score of 5.5/6.  I was now in joint lead with 3 additional players.   

Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat R8

Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat R8-2

The next round I was paired with a very sharp, dynamic player who was rated at a high 2163.  I had to be careful of his clever tricks and traps.  He had experience on his side, and had been playing longer than I was born.  Well, that was true with quite a few of the higher rated players.  The opponent played a Dragon Sicilian, one of the sharpest openings.  He offered me a draw on move 15.  That was strange.  A much higher rated player already offering a Draw, when the game was still young and undecided.  I sensed he was unsure.  Even though I was tempted to accept his offer since he was higher rated, I also knew that if I took the offer it would break my momentum.  A Draw would have me within a group of leading players.  A Win could possibly make me breakout from the group.  My sense was right.  After 15 moves of standard theory, my  opponent was out of the books and it was his thinking at the board.  He made a dubious move, relying on his intuition that he’ll get sharp counter play to compensate for the material disadvantage.  It proved to be a grave mistake as I seized my chance by grabbing the exchange.  The only thing left was to consolidate, make sure my King was safe, and convert my material advantage.  As I had expected, he started getting desperate for counterplay and he went into a complicated line where I needed to tread extremely cautiously.  He made a bold decision when he played e3, but I had seen the winning variation and was able to trade down to fewer pieces.  Thereafter, I took the full point  without any more problems.  I now had the sole lead at this point, which I never relinquished till the end.  

It was the last day, and we had two rounds starting from early in the morning.  In the penultimate round I was paired with a player rated 2165.  I had lost to him in an earlier tournament.  So I was determined to avenge and make amends.  As White, he played a reverse King’s Indian.  I adopted the setup with g6 which offers Black full equality.  I continued with normal development and that’s where he started to play awry. A series of bad moves was followed by a blunder.  I latched on to it with Nxc3.  The rest was just a matter of technique.  I simply traded down into the endgame and won fairly easily.  I was so relieved, but I knew there was still a round left.  

Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat R6 Delhi Open Dec 2011 - Akshat 5 Akshat-Delhi Open2011-2
Everything could change in the final round as I had learned many times in the past.  It a’int over till the fat lady sings.  My astute coach advised me to play 15 moves and then offer a draw to see if the opponent wished to play for a Win, or if he was content with a Draw.  To win the tournament, I just needed a Draw.  I sat down on my seat, determined to be a Champion.  Then came the big moment.  After 3 moves the opponent offered a draw!  Huh?!  Just after 3 moves, I thought to myself.  Players on many tables are still settling down, and here I’ve a Draw offer from the second seeded player.  My heart started pounding.  I knew I had won the tournament.  I shook his hand confidently and walked off the stage … a Champion.

Within two year of being rated, I had won an entire Open tournament.  Hard and Smart work pays!  I believed it and now I’ve something to show for it.

As an aside, when I entered the tournament premises to play the final round I was surrounded by a group of children.  They took me to the side and told me to play carefully and win the tournament.  They were pleading that always these tournaments are won by adults and never by a child.  “This is our chance.”  There words were ringing in my ears as I walked to the top table for the final round.  Thanks guys for your wishes!

 Victory at Home! Lifting the Cup!