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!