Titled Tuesday
Chess.com’s Online Blitz Tournament

Blitz chess is the most exciting format of a chess game. Players usually have between 3 and 5 minutes for the entire game, and several times the game gets decided in wild time scrambles. The experience is extremely exhilarating for the players, and audience as well. With less time to think, the game is mostly played on intuition. I have an affinity for Blitz, and shorter time control in general, and incidentally learnt a few days ago that I am the #1 Junior (U21) Rapid Player (15 to 25 minute Time Controls with slight increment or delay) in the United States!

A few months ago, Chess.com started an online Blitz tournament for Titled players. Known as “Titled Tuesday,” the tournament occurs on the last Tuesday of each month, and attracts a pool of Titled Players, including several renowned GM’s, from all over the world. I decided to play the Titled Tuesday tournament yesterday, which turned out to be the strongest edition to date (probably because the prize fund increased from 1000$ to 2500$ :) ). Hikaru Nakamura, the #1 US chess player, Maxime Vachier Lagrave (MVL), the #1 French player, Baadur Jobava, the #1 Georgian Player, who had already won 3 editions of the Titled Tuesday, were some of the prominent names who participated in the event. The time control was 3 minutes with a 2-second increment per move.

Since I recently started playing on Chess.com, my website blitz rating was 2196, which meant my starting rank was fairly low – 70 out of 100 players. I didn’t mind that, as it meant that I’d be playing more higher rated than lower rated. In round 1, I faced an IM rated 2500 (Chess.com Blitz rating) as Black. The game was uneventful, and ended in a boring draw. In R2, I faced Ukranian GM Vovk Andrey, rated 2642 FIDE. I blundered a pawn early on in the opening, although the computers say it was the best move! But he made an error, followed by the decisive mistake, and I won the game.

That set the tone for me, and I raced onwards to 5.5/6, defeating a Russian FM (anonymous), a French IM (anonymous), FM Eric Rosen (2299 FIDE)  from the United States, and Armenian GM Gevorg Harutjunyan (2459 FIDE) in a cliffhanger game.

I was now tied for second with 2 other GM’s, heading into the home stretch. In R7, I was White against the #1 French player MVL! I played poorly, and my opponent outplayed me and had a nearly-winning advantage. But then he made a blunder, and I realized that I might have a win, but messed up the move-order, and played a losing move instead. MVL found the only move that wins for him, and won the game shortly after.

I lost the 8th round to an IM from Argentina, but was able to rebound in the last round, and beat a very strong blitz player, GM Igor Kovalenko (2656 FIDE, 2700 FIDE Blitz!) as Black. I finished tied 3rd on points with 6.5/9, and 10th on tiebreaks. The tournament was won by GM’s Eltaj Safarli (2641 FIDE) from Azerbaijan, Jose Carlos Ibarra Jerez (2537 FIDE), and (of course) the #1 Georgian player, Baadur Jobava (2696 FIDE).

Overall, it was an extremely thrilling tournament, and I was happy with how I played. The next Titled Tuesday is on March 3 2:00 EST, so don’t forget to tune in then!

 

“Training” with the US Chess Champion
5-hours with GM Gata Kamsky

In January, I played one of Mike Regan’s 5-round tournaments, the Championship section of the Chesapeake Open at Rockville, Maryland. This year’s edition was quite strong, and happened to attract none other than the reigning US Chess Champion, GM Gata Kamsky! Gata is a 5x US Champion, and was regularly among the world’s elite for several years. His rating has dipped a bit from 2740 FIDE to 2675 over the last 2 years, but that is hardly an indication of his actual strength.

GM Gata Kamsky

GM Gata Kamsky

I faced a bright youngster in the first round, Brandon Jacobson (1981 FIDE). He played the Berlin (who doesn’t these days?), after which the game evolved into a typical Ruy Lopez position. Brandon played extremely well (he’s definitely underrated by at least 100-150 FIDE points), and the game was still complex when he made the decisive blunder.

IM Akshat Chandra

IM Akshat Chandra

FM Karl Dehmelt

FM Karl Dehmelt

In the 2nd round, I played Karl Dehmelt (2241 FIDE) as Black. He played a rare line to avoid the Open Sicilian, but later on ended up getting an inferior version of the Open Sicilian type positions for White. I then won two pawns, and reached the time control with an easily won position. Karl resigned 14 moves later.

GM Nikala Huschenbeth

GM Nikala Huschenbeth

The competition started to become tougher now, as I faced German GM Niclas Huschenbeth (2548 FIDE)  as White in Round 3. I played an interesting line, and quickly built up a strong advantage. We made some inaccuracies, and eventually traded down into a promising endgame for me. But I made a couple of mistakes which blew the advantage, and so I had to settle for a draw. It was frustrating to let a strong GM off the hook, as one has to make the most of such opportunities.

IM Akshat playing IM Tekchand

IM Akshat playing IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat

I played local IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2417 FIDE) as Black in Round 4. He was particularly solid with White, so I decided to just play something normal and see what happens. On move 11, I spent an outrageous 40 minutes trying to figure out the best way to proceed. I was putting myself at a handicap on the clock once again. I found the correct way to proceed, but with each move I was getting lower and lower on time. After 20 moves, I was down to my last 5 minutes, while my opponent still had about 40. I was able to find some accurate moves to continue my advantage though, and the see-saw was beginning to tilt in my favor even more. Then, I nearly lost my nerves in the following position:

So now I was 3.5/4 with one round to go. As expected, I played Gata in Round 5, and was Black again. Hey, why couldn’t Gata get a double-Black instead of me :) . Our game was a rather dull affair, with White having a slight, nagging advantage, but nothing more. I kept the balance for 40 moves, but upon reaching the time-control, I made a hideous blunder which destroyed everything. Gata found a neat breakthrough to refute my move.

It was sad to lose against the US Champion when I had kept things in balance all throughout. This game was the last one to finish, and was a 5-hour affair. I’m referring to this as “training” , as I gained some vital experience, and learnt some lessons from my game with the US Champ!

Overall, I was content with how I played the tournament, though the last round loss to Gata will sting for a while. I’ll just have to get him next time ;) .

 

Some other titled players at the tournament

GM Mark Paragua

GM Mark Paragua

IM Levan Bregadze

IM Levan Bregadze

All pictures are from official website.  For more pictures click here.

Meeting the Legend Once Again!
A session with Garry Kasparov

Last month, a group of 5 young players were invited to an evaluation session by Garry Kasparov as part of the “Young Stars-USA” program sponsored by Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the St. Louis Chess Club (CCSCSL). This was my second time at the session, having attending the last one about a year ago.

Meeting Garry truly energizes me. I felt I was a stronger player just being in his company.  I wrote an article about the session on Chessbase and on US Chess. Have fun reading the articles, which have different studies.

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra at a Chess session - Dec 2014

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra at a Chess session – Dec 2014

TS7

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra – Dec 2014

Reflecting on the Qatar Masters 2014
I won’t back down!

The Qatar Masters 2014 held in Doha late November, turned out to be the strongest Open tournament ever. Out of a total of 154 players, 92 of them were GM’s, of which 56 were over 2600 and 14 over 2700. Unfortunately for me, it was one of the worst performances of mine in recent memory. Since my journey over the last 4  years and 10 months from ~1550 FIDE to 2490 FIDE rating, I can only recall a handful of tournaments where I set the rating gear in total reverse.

Things started going wrong from the 1st round itself, when I messed up a completely even position against Chinese Super GM Bu Xiangzhi (2710 FIDE). I had played him at the Millionaire Chess in October, and had lost in similar heart-breaking fashion. I only have myself to blame however, as I let myself fall into time-pressure early on, after which the probability of a blunder increases. Bu didn’t break me, I did that myself.

The next 3 rounds were spent fighting it out against lower rated, in which I scraped together 2/3 from those games to get me to a score of 2/4. I now faced Ukranian GM Sergey Fedorchuk (2664 FIDE), an experienced and veteran player. Our game was complex, with both of us spending a lot of time trying to figure things out. But then I inexplicably spent too much time at one point, and was down to my final minute for the last 15 moves. This is not how chess is played. Fortunately, he also ended up coming down in time, though I was still playing mostly on increments, and in the ensuing complications I managed to win an exchange. Things were looking good, and I just had to survive the next 7 moves and reach the time control before assessing things in more detail. But that was not to be, as I blundered away my near-winning advantage on moves 35 and 36. Game over.

Losing in such painful fashion due to self inflicted mistakes was simply agonizing. This game triggered a total collapse from my side. Trying to make up for this disaster, I stubbornly deferred a draw in a complete equal position in the next round, and ended up losing. I lost again, and again, and again, until I finally won my game in the last round. It didn’t really matter though, as the damage had already been done.

I ended up losing several FIDE rating points, and recorded an embarrassingly low rating performance. What was the cause of such a disastrous showing? The conditions were great, and there was an ocean-full of higher rated players to play. So what went wrong?

Well in my opinion, the glaring shortcoming was my poor time management. I was playing good chess early on, but it didn’t matter since everything would go to waste after I would repeatedly shoot myself in the foot on the clock. Time is a crucial aspect of this game, and is something which I should not have been so flippant with.

We’ll always encounter setbacks some time in our life, and it’s important that we learn from them and get better. This was a harsh learning experience in particular for me, and something which I will remember for a long time. But I plan to absorb all the lessons I’ve learnt, and come back stronger. You know why? ‘Cause I won’t back down baby :) .

 

Final impressions of the Qatar Masters

The recently concluded Qatar Masters 2014 was surprisingly won by Chinese GM Yu Yangyi. I say surprisingly because when there are players like Kramnik and Giri playing, one seems to forget about everyone else. As the tournament drew to a close, Yangyi upped his level of play and skillfully composed a symphony of wins in the final three games. He finished the tournament with an incredible score of 7.5/9 (+6, =3, -0), +21 in rating, and a 2905 performance! In this one tournament, which was the strongest Open ever, he surged on the World Rankings list to number 22, with a LIVE rating of 2730. This makes him China’s new highest rated player, eclipsing Ding Liren, who is at 2727.

After the last round, Yangyi was gracious enough to sit down with me for an interview, which was uniquely done through the use of Google’s online translator. The reason for this was because neither he, nor his group of friends, were comfortable with English. My Chinese was completely nonexistent as well, beyond Xie-Xie or Syeh-Syeh (Thank You). The online translations were not so accurate, and were quite nonsensical at times. But I kind of knew we were on the right track when our faces would light up occasionally, as we read the translations on the computer. I tried my best to piece together the fragments of his responses that made sense, and have also paraphrased at certain points.

Akshat Chandra: First of all, congratulations on winning the strongest Open tournament ever! What was your mindset going into the last round; was your plan to go all out for a win, or just play solidly and see what happens?

Yu Yangyi: Thank you (smiles)! I am very happy to have won this tournament. For the last round, I didn’t think too much about winning, and just wanted to play a normal game.

Akshat: How was your game today? It looks like you won quite smoothly against such a strong opponent.

Yangyi: I played this game well, and it was a high-quality game for which I was glad. In the game against the American GM (Aleksandr Lenderman), I made some mistakes, which could have cost me dearly and thrown me out of the race.

Akshat: You managed to break Kramnik’s Berlin, something Kasparov could not do.

Yangyi: (smiles) obviously my opponent is well respected and known for his knowledge in the Berlin.

Akshat: Where are you from in China, and what age did you start playing chess?

Yangyi: My hometown is the city of Huangshi, which is in the province of Hubei. I started playing chess at the age of seven years.

Akshat: This is probably the biggest win, and result of your career. China is doing well in chess recently – your team won the Olympiad earlier, and now you have won the Qatar Masters! We are waiting for a Chinese player to become world champion.

Yangyi: Recently, for me and my teammates, it has been going very well. This is definitely the biggest achievement of my career so far. With regards to future a world champion, I personally feel that there is a gap still between me and the world super-class players, and I need to continue the effort. The achievements of a single event does not mean anything.

After our talk, I got the impression from his responses that Yangyi is a very modest and humble person. He is not looking too far ahead, and recognizes the fact that the effort and work must still continue. Like he said, the achievement of one tournament does not mean anything, and that he must continue to get even better! Winning the Qatar Masters 2014 was the biggest achievement of Yangyi’s young, promising career, but he has had many other notable results. Here is a compilation of some of them, which my ChessBase colleague Sagar Shah neatly put together:

  • Won the 2014 Chinese Championship (on tiebreak) with a score of 7/11 and a 2679 performance
  • Won the 2014 Asian Continental Championship with a score of 7/9 and 2789 performance
  • Won the 2013 World Junior Championship with a score of 11/13 and a 2792 performance
  • Won the Danzhou tournament in 2011 at the age of 16, with a score of 7/9 and a 2878 performance

The emergence of players like Yangyi certainly bodes well for the future of chess in China, and I for one expect to see him firmly established among the world’s elite shortly.

Former World Champion GM Vladimir Kramnik, who was leading the tournament going into the final round before losing to Yangyi, gave a press conference after his seventh round win against top seed GM Anish Giri. I was fortunate enough to be present, and was able to ask him a couple of questions.

Akshat: Vladimir, when was the last time you played an open tournament? The Qatar Masters must be very special to attract a player like you, and also, do you plan on playing more open tournaments in the future?

Vladimir: I never mind playing open tournaments. Actually I haven’t played for more than 20 years I think, but I played Olympiads for example, which have a similar atmosphere. I always enjoy that, and here in Qatar I know this gentleman well (referring to GM Mohamed Al-Medaihki), and I know that the organization will be perfect. Also, it’s a very strong open tournament. I wouldn’t play an average open, but here it’s more interesting, so I don’t mind playing at all. I don’t think I will play lots of open tournaments because I have enough of top tournaments also. But for instance next year, I would be happy to come back again!

Akshat: Vladimir, was it due to nerves that you drew the first two games? You know, trying to settle down into the open tournament format. Also, what has sparked your turnaround over the last five rounds?

Vladimir: Well, I don’t know, all these years it happens often with players that you get into the tournament slowly. I just was a little bit slow in the beginning, but I also have to admit that my opponents played very well first two rounds (GMs Halikas Stelios from Greece, and Shyam Sundar from India). They were playing much above their rating, and I don’t feel like I played badly. I was a bit disappointed; not with my play, but more with the result. Usually, when you play well, if you keep on playing well, at some point you start winning. I was not worrying about winning many games, I was just focusing on playing well after this negative start. I managed, and victories came even more than I expected so far.

I soaked in his words, his detailed and informative responses, and stored the answers in my brain: as long you keep on playing well, the results will eventually come; and a slow start can be overcome, as long as your game is strong.

I also had a chance during the tournament to have engaging conversations with Khalifa Al-Hitmi, President of the Qatar Chess Association. He was a very charming and affable person. When he saw me wondering when Vladimir Kramnik last played an Open tournament, he laughed heartily and said that it was well before I was born. Even Kramnik was not sure. But Mr. Hitmi knew! The last open tournament Kramnik played in was 22 years ago – the Alekhine Open in 1992.

During one of our after-round evening conversations, Mr. Hitmi told me that they had to refuse 200 players, which included 30 GMs, because there was no capacity. He believes that for the 2015 edition, they will try to accommodate a few more – perhaps about 20 to 30 strong players – as they want the elite nature of the tournament to be preserved. They have already started the process of selecting venues, and are reviewing four such locations in and around Doha. The dates are expected to be around the same time as this year.

On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and opportunity to play in Qatar. The organization was flawless, and the playing conditions were just marvelous. My feelings are captured succinctly in the three words made famous by the Terminator: I’ll be back.

Doha is a city where the drill never stops. During the day, there is the constant noise of construction, as you walk around the city. There are cultural landmarks being built, and of course the preparation for the 2022 Football World Cup. Things are fairly easygoing for a tourist, but the roads are quite stressful, as drivers don’t stop for pedestrians!

I had an opportunity to visit one of the iconic cultural symbols of the city, The Museum of Islamic Arts (above). It was quite a captivating experience, and I was particularly impressed with the special exhibit on Tipu Sultan, a famous Indian warrior and ruler of Southern India.

I wrote this article for Chessbase and it can be viewed here.