The US Junior Closed Chess Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the United States – next only to the US Championships. This was my first time playing the US Junior, and I was looking forward to competing in this event. The chief attraction of the invitational Junior Championship is that the winner qualifies for the following year’s US Championship, in which they get to play top world-class players in a typical round-robin format, just like other elite tournaments. With next year’s edition potentially having a lineup that could include Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Gata Kamsky, each participant in the Junior championship had sufficient motivation to go all out.
The players arrived in St. Louis on July 6, one day before the event was to begin, and we all drew our pairing lots during the opening ceremony that evening. The picking of the lots was done by last name, but in reverse alphabetical order. By the time I got around to picking, all the 5 White lots had already been selected, and I had to content myself with the 4 Whites draw. The strongest US Junior ever had begun.
In Round 1, I had the Black pieces and faced a good friend of mine, the precocious International Master Luke Harmon Vellotti. This was a tough game to start off the tournament. Although one may have been tempted to play a solid opening, especially with the Black pieces, I decided to go for a more fighting and complex game by revisiting an old friend.
It felt great to start the tournament off with a victory as Black against a strong opponent. I carried the momentum through the next 3 rounds and raced out to 3.5/4. In Round 5, I faced FM Ruifeng Li, as Black.
The game started off horribly, as I got trapped in my opponent’s preparation, like an insect trapped in tree sap. Ruifeng was incredibly well prepared, and was blitzing out his moves. He literally got a near-decisive advantage with his preparation. Meanwhile, I was sweating it out and had already fallen way behind on the clock. Under enormous pressure, I ended up making a horrible blunder, which I realized as soon as I had moved. I saw the winning continuation for Ruifeng, and thought I was going to lose any moment. The only consolation was that Ruifeng was out of his preparation. It was here that the tide of the game started to turn. Ruifeng missed the killer blow, and I started to outplay him despite being an exchange down. His advantage dissipated after inaccurate moves from his side, and I found myself holding the advantage now. However, I was so relieved of not being in any danger of losing that I decided to simplify matters and force a draw.
Here is the game, annotated by tournament analyst Mackenzie Molner:
After a bloodless draw in R6 against IM Michael Bodek, I faced GM Jeffery Xiong, with the Black pieces. This was easily the most anticipated match of the tournament, with the two top seeds facing off in the crucial 7th round. I had a ½ point lead over Jeffery at this stage, and so it was essential to hold my ground and not lose my grip on the tournament standings.
I decided to roll with the Taimanov once again. Things were fairly balanced, and we soon traded Queens into a minor piece endgame with rooks on the board. The position was completely even, but I had fallen into serious time trouble. I had about 2 minutes to complete the last 12 moves and as a result, I made some serious mistakes. When we reached the time control, Jeffery had a near-decisive advantage. I defended tenaciously for the next few moves, while Jeffery kept playing accurately to hold his advantage. But suddenly, Jeffery made a blunder, overlooking a fantastic resource of mine. This allowed me to simplify into an easily drawn 2 vs 1 Rook endgame, and the game was eventually drawn.
In R8, I faced FM Arthur Shen with the White pieces. While I had drawn my last three games, Arthur had reeled off four straight wins to join me in the lead with 5/7. It was only fitting that we played in the penultimate round.
Arthur surprised me in the opening by offering me to go into the main line Ruy Lopez, something he has never played before. After some thought, I decided to decline by going for 6.d3 instead. I managed to win a pawn after an inaccuracy by him, and though he had compensation, Arthur was unable to find the best continuation. I was able to consolidate, and show good technique to close out the game effectively.
Going into the last round, I was the sole leader at 6/9, with Jeffery following close behind at 5.5/9. It was reassuring to know that things were in my hands, and I had control of the tournament’s outcome. I faced FM Awonder Liang with the Black pieces.
I stuck to my Taimanov once again, and Awonder surprised me in the opening by going for a variation he had never played before. I responded in the most solid manner, but Awonder was still in his preparation, and continued playing swiftly. This was quite uncomfortable, and I decided to throw him out of his preparation by developing my bishop to d7, instead of the natural looking 14…exf4. This seemed to do the trick as Awonder began to think now. He was able to gain an impressive-looking center, but it turned out to be rather flimsy. I enhanced the pressure and Awonder cracked, allowing me to build up a decisive advantage. The game went on for a few more moves, before White resigned.
I was thrilled to have won the 2015 US Junior Championship, and earn a spot into the 2016 US Championships. It is exciting to know that I could be playing the likes of Caruana and Nakamura next year!
It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall
It takes a great team to organize such a major tournament flawlessly. Arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer did a great job officiating the event, and the production staff did an impeccable job of broadcasting the games and commentary online. In many ways, the organization of the US Junior was like a dry-run for the Sinquefield Cup which begins in August. Judging by the way they managed the US Junior, the team is definitely more than ready to host the world’s elite once more.
Finally, I’d like to thank Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for providing juniors an opportunity to compete in an elite environment and conditions. Without their support and vision, the level of chess interest in America would not be where it is today.
Photo Credits: Austin Fuller of CCSCSL and Akshat Chandra
Annotation Credits: GM Mackenzie Molner and Akshat Chandra
The National High School Championship K-12 is by far the strongest national scholastic event in the US. The 2015 edition was held in Columbus, Ohio, from April 10 to 12, with the National High School Blitz Championship a day earlier on April 9.
I was the top-seed, and this meant that I would be be playing only lower rated players in the tournament. This situation adds another level of complexity, since the top-seed has to constantly work to win every game and overcome the drawish lines often played by lower-rated opponents, many of them underrated relative to their chess knowledge. On top of that, the 2015 High School edition was the strongest National Scholastic championship yet. However, these factors did not deter me since I wished to capture the prestigious title of being America’s National High School Champion for 2015. What concerned me though was the exhausting schedule, about 30 hours of Chess in 53 hours, and my ability to recover from a fatiguing Philadelphia Open tournament just prior.
On April 9, Thursday, the Blitz tournament was held. This was exciting, as Blitz usually is, although no increment on the time-control meant piece-throwing was rampant in the closing seconds. I scored 11.5/12, dropping 1/2 a point because I didn’t stop the clock in-time when my opponent flagged, resulting in my flag also appearing thereafter. The TD said that because I didn’t claim the opponent’s flag in time, the game was a draw.
I became the National High School Blitz Champion and took the 1st place on tiebreak over the talented Christopher Wu, who also scored the same points. It was interesting to observe that the top-3 ranks went to players from New Jersey (Akshat, Chris, Arthur Shen).
The main event kicked off the next day under shimmering colorful light panels giving the impression of Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, with 472 players competing in the Championship section and 1492 players in all sections.
In the 1st round, I played a budding talent, 6th grader Vincent Baker from Ohio. I got a pretty good position out of the opening. But I started to make some extremely weird moves, and Vincent started to play really strong, and suddenly I found myself in a hopeless drawn rook endgame. I only had 20 seconds (with a 5 second delay), while Vincent had about 20 minutes. Somehow I managed to win after Vincent made several inaccuracies in the endgame. I really felt sorry for my young opponent for he had played great, and I didn’t deserve to win. But such is chess.
In Round 2, I overcame Taylor Bagley from Kentucky. This was another sub-par game from my side, as I was worse out of the opening, before outplaying him. The outplaying led to a winning opportunity which I missed, leading to what began to look like a drawish game with precise play. Fortunately, Taylor missed the optimal defense, and I was able to get the win. I was disgusted with the way I had been playing, as this is not the level of chess I expected of myself.
I was determined to play better the next day, and managed to do just that, winning a nice positional game against Abhishek Obili from Texas.
In Round 4, I beat Ben Li, a 7th grader from Minnesota. This was another strong game from my side, as I completely outplayed my opponent and dominated the game.
In Round 5, I faced the talented and a regular National player, FM Cameron Wheeler, from California. This was an awful game from my side, as I missed two strong continuations which would given me a substantial advantage, and was just worse after that. Cameron had an advantage when we decided to draw.
Heading into the final day, there was only 1 person on a perfect 5 / 5 – IM Kesav Viswanadha. Then there were quite a few players, including myself, trailing him at 4.5 / 5. I figured that a winning score would be 6.5, considering the strength of the tournament. It was important for me to play strongest in the final two rounds.
In Round 6, I faced Michael Chen from Michigan. It was clear that my opponent was playing for a draw from the start, and even though I had a slight advantage, it was looking difficult to win. But slowly I began to outplay him, and eventually we reached a Rook endgame where I was a pawn up. But the problem was that I had only 30 seconds, while my opponent had around 30 minutes! However, I managed to stay calm and methodically advanced my Kingside majority to victory. I even checkmated my opponent, who strangely didn’t resign even after I had made 2 Queens against his lone king.
After the penultimate round, there were 4 players on 5.5 / 6 – Kesav, Cameron, Kapil Chandran, and myself. I had the best tie-breaking going into the final round, which was nice to know but not conclusive. This was just like the situation I encountered while playing the K-9 SuperNationals in 2013 – and the similarities didn’t end here. I knew I had to Win the last game to make it decisive.
By the time the 6th round had concluded, about 30-minutes before the final round, my Dad told me that Arthur Shen had defeated Kesav on the top board. So I began to prepare for Arthur, a good friend of mine, as it was obvious I would play him. But when the pairings came out 10 minutes before the round, I saw that I was playing Kesav instead. I was bewildered, and couldn’t understand how I was playing Kesav. But then I saw that Kesav was also on 5.5, which meant he had drawn his game with Arthur not lost. Looks like my Dad was mistaken! I was flustered. This was not the first time my Dad had done such a mixup. In my only previous National Championship appearance – the K-9 SuperNationals 2013 – before the final round he told me that Safal Bora had won against Cameron Wheeler in the penultimate round. So while I checked out Safal’s game in the few minutes left for the last round, the pairings came out just moments before round-time. In fact, Cameron had won against Safal, and he was going to play me in the final round of the K-9 SuperNational Championship. With no time to prepare, I just shook my head and went on to play Cameron. Inspite of this confusion two years ago, I was able to win the game and the K-9 SuperNational title. So my Dad seems to have made this inaccurate results information into a tradition, and I’m just happy there are no more Nationals to play anymore for him to jolt me. Just before I walked to the board, he told me to bail him out once again for the last time. I wonder if it will indeed be the last time 🙂
So here I was experiencing a true deja vu situation in the final round of the National High School Championship. There was no time to prepare now for Kesav, and I had unnecessarily tired myself chasing a wrong opponent. Walking to the board, I decided to just play something I had never done before, to avoid any potential preparation from my opponent. I knew that the line I was going to play was harmless for Black, should he play accurately, but figured it would have a good surprise-effect. The game evolved into a highly sharp and complicated position, when Kesav suddenly made the decisive mistake.
It felt great to win, as Kesav was a tough opponent. The win put me on 6.5 / 7, and since the other two players had drawn, this meant that I was sole 1st!
Overall, I was thrilled to have won the tournament, despite playing some poor chess in a few of the games, being unable to prepare for the opponents, as several of my opponents had no games in database, and being quite tired during some of the games as I was coming after playing a very intense 9-rounds at the Philadelphia Open. The competition here at the National High was extremely tough, and several players were underrated. So it was extremely satisfying to capture the title of the National High School Champion 2015.
This was my second national tournament, and like before I found the tournament well-organized. It’s quite hard to organize a tournament of this size so flawlessly and the USCF team needs to be commended.
Just like the last time at the K-9 SuperNationals, my father ended up purchasing the final-round Chess set. I still have the previous one and should probably consider using it some time 🙂 .
Or maybe I’ll be back next year 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
All pictures are either my own or from official website. For more official pictures click here.
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 🙂 .
Please check my latest article on the World’s Strongest Open Tournament – The Qatar Masters 2014 – on Chessbase. Some of it is below:
The Middle East is rapidly emerging as the host of several high profile tournaments. Over the last two years the region has hosted prestigious tournaments such as the World FIDE Blitz/Rapid 2014, World Youth 2013, Asian Continental 2014, Abu Dhabi Masters, and Al Ain Classic. These tournaments were all held in the UAE. But now Qatar has announced its entry into the high-profile chess circuit with what appears to be the strongest Open tournament in chess history.
The Qatar Masters Open 2014 is being held from November 25 to December 5 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Doha, Qatar. The country with a population of about two million people is located on the Qatar Peninsula, which protrudes out like a thumb into the Arabian Gulf.
About an hour away from the sand dunes, the Qatar Chess Association is hosting the Open, which will capture the attention of the chess community for the next ten days. There are 92 grandmasters participating, or 60% of the 154 total players. Out of these 92 GMs, 56 are over 2600, and an incredible 14 over 2700. Let those numbers sink in for a moment! This tournament truly is a convention of brilliant chess minds.
The tournament is anchored by some of the world’s elite players including
top seed Anish Giri, rated 2776, the highest rated junior in the world…
…and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, 2760, who dethroned the mighty Garry Kasparov.
Other very strong players: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Azerbaijan’s highest rated player; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, France’s highest rated player; Ding Liren, China’s highest rated player; and Pentala Harikrishna, India’s second highest rated player after Anand.
The top three in the front row: Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
I decided to do a little analysis to determine how the Qatar Masters Open compares to other significant high level open tournaments. To compare, I took the average rating of the top 20 players from each tournament.
- Qatar Masters 2014 – The average rating of the Qatar Master’s top 20 players is a staggering 2713. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 19.
- Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Masters – One of the most respected open tournaments in the world, the average of the top 20 players in the 2014 edition was 2699. If the tournament was just between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18 tournament. It’s likely the Top 20 average would inch higher to 2701 or more next year, which would be a Category 19 tier.
- Aeroflot Open 2012 A Group – The only other tournament besides Gibraltar Masters, which would stand tall next to the Qatar Masters. In its last edition in 2012, the average rating of the top 20 players was a hefty 2690. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18.
- Moscow Open A 2014 – Another prominent and strong tournament held in Russia. The top 20 players in this year’s edition had an average rating of 2637.
- Millionaire Chess Open 2014 – The recently concluded Millionaire Chess saw the top 20 players averaging a 2636 rating. Not a bad start for the tournament’s first edition.
A review of some notable tournaments indicates that the Qatar Masters Open is indeed decisively the strongest Open ever! A historic moment indeed for the chess world. Here are the top 40, every single one a GM (in fact you have to go down to place 76 to encounter the first IM).
More can be read here
Rockville, Maryland. That’s where I was headed next for the Washington International 2014 chess tournament. I was extremely excited for this chess tournament, and eager to make amends for the disappointing result at the North American Junior Chess in Canada a few days prior. My dad, brother, and I took the morning Amtrak train which dropped us off at Union Station, followed by taking the local metro to Rockville. We reached the Hilton Hotel venue by late afternoon, after an ~5-hour journey. The first round began the next morning. But there was a blitz tournament that evening, which I decided to play. I’ve enjoyed lot of success playing blitz chess online, beating a few big names, but my results are not so spectacular over the board for some reason. The tournament was a double-match, meaning we played the same player, once with each color. I didn’t play particularly well, muddling through the tournament with uninspired chess, but managed to beat a GM 2-0 in the last round 🙂 . On to the main tournament now!
I was seeded #14, out of ~50 players, with a 2472 rating, which meant I’d play lower rated for the first two rounds. There were many strong players at the top, the highest one being the young Ukranian chess phenom GM Ilya Nyzhnyk, with a rating of 2638. In the first round, I was paired with a young, strong chess player, Kesav Viswanadha (2253 FIDE). It was an interesting game, where I blockaded the Queen-side, nullifying his play, and aimed to win the game on the Kingside. He tried to create some play by sacrificing a pawn in the center, but he never got any compensation for it and I was just a healthy pawn up. My two bishops came alive, while his knights were poorly placed and had literally no squares. I transposed to an endgame, and won shortly after.
In the second round I faced another bright youngster, Kevin Wang (2348 FIDE), and played Black. Kevin was coming off a win against GM Fidel Corrales (2566 FIDE), so it was essential I brought my A-game. Unfortunately, I brought my D-game 🙁 . I surprised him in the opening with a rare move, hoping it would rattle him. Now that I think about it though, it was hardly a move to write home about 🙂 . White has a plethora of options, all which guarantee him a slight edge or equality. Kevin made a slight inaccuracy however, which allowed me to build up a slight advantage after playing natural moves. But at a critical juncture I erred, and dissolved my advantage after a series of bad moves. I was now barely hanging on and fighting for a draw, not to mention I was down to less than a minute and was surviving solely on the increment. Luckily for me, Kevin missed a couple of forced wins and made some inaccuracies which dissipated his advantage. On move 33, he played Bc5 which turned out to be a blunder, and I missed a queen sacrifice which led to a forced win. Well that’s what happens when I shoot myself in the foot by making bad moves, and very importantly not managing my time well. The game ended in a draw few moves later, something I was grateful for, but was still pretty annoyed at missing my golden opportunity to win after a hard and stressful defense. The only reason this chess game didn’t get an F-grade, was because I managed not to lose 😛 .
I was faced with another lower rated in R3, local chess player William Morrison (2267 FIDE) who was having a great tournament. He had logged an upset in R1 against GM-elect Darwin Yang, and drawn with GM Ioan Christan Chirila in R2. William played the highly popular Breyer variation, known for it’s solidity, against my Ruy Lopez. After some thought, I decided to take action on the Kingside by opening things up with 23.f4.
This f4 was a high-risk high-reward type of move. While it did open up lines in the center and on the Kingside for my Rooks and other pieces, Black had the e5 square at it’s disposal; the perfect square for his Knight. I had to make sure that my threats broke through, so he didn’t get time to consolidate and plant his Knight on e5 permanently. That’s exactly what happened, and as often happens when one is under pressure, he made the decisive mistake. I found the winning plan, but when it was time to make the key move in my sequence, I ended up forgetting about it and making an atrocious move instead.
After that, things should have headed for a draw (although I would have probably sacrificed my g5 pawn to retain some minuscule chances). Luckily for me, he blundered 2 moves later and this time I capitalized on it, and sealed the deal. I was now on 2.5/3, but I was highly dissatisfied with my last 2 games, in which I could have been severely punished for being ignorant, and forgetful.
I received a double White in Round 4, which pitted me against a higher rated GM Sergey Azarov (2635 FIDE) from Belarus. He had been playing many chess tournaments since the start of summer in the U.S, and was having some good results, finishing tied second at the NY International, DC International, and World Open ; performing above his rating in all these extremely strong tournaments. I surprised him by playing an unusual and slightly rare move in the opening, after which he began to consume a lot of time. He recaptured with his knight, which came as a surprise to me as I was expecting the pawn recapture.
Then it was my turn to consume lot of time, and pretty soon we were both level on time at around ~45 minutes each. The game became roughly equal, but not entirely devoid of chances. I was playing extremely solidly, trying to limit his play, while not overextending myself trying to win. That’s usually a good plan against higher rated – don’t force things when there isn’t anything, let them force because the pressure is on them to win. Pretty soon we traded down to an endgame which was slightly better for me, but I didn’t see any way to make advantage of my Rook on the 7th rank, and so forced a repetition of moves.
So 3 points out of 4, not bad, but still a long way to go. I was faced against GM Mark Paragua (2489 FIDE) from the Philippines in R5. I had played him a few months earlier at the Marshall GM Invitational, where I had earned my first GM Norm. Aah, memories 🙂 . I covered that for Chessbase, click here and here to read about it. Don’t click anywhere if you want to finish reading this article 😀 . Ever since Mark started playing in the U.S., he has been playing only one line as White – The Trompowsky. D4 followed by Bg5, regardless of what the opponent played (Of course, he wouldn’t play Bg5 if the opponent played 1.h6,1.f6, or 1.e6 :). I had prepared my usual way of playing against it, when minutes before the game I decided to switch to something else which seemed to offer better chances. As a result, I opened up with 1.d5. Mark seemed to be slightly surprised, but as expected he followed up with 2.Bg5. I then responded with 2.f6 !?, the idea I had wanted to employ. It seems like a weird move, but thanks to f6, Black is able build up a formidable center.
I had briefly looked at one variation in this line before the game, and as luck would have it Mark went straight into it. But unfortunately, I forgot the continuation which I had looked at for myself. I wracked my brains trying to remember, but as luck wouldn’t have it, I couldn’t. It wasn’t so much of a big deal though, and I think I managed pretty well.
So it ended in a draw, after a fighting game filled with some distinct plans and ideas. That put me at 3.5/5, still in the mix of things, but I needed a win to breakout. I played Mark’s compatriot in the 6th round, GM Barbosa Oliver (2540 FIDE). He had been struggling in his transition from the Philippines to the US chess circuit, but that was no indication of his real strength. He had won the extremely strong Kolkata Open 2014 in India a few months ago, beating several strong players enroute to his victory. I had Black again, which made sense as I had a double White earlier. As weird as it may sound, I wasn’t able to prepare for him because he didn’t have many recent games in my lines. So I didn’t really know what to expect from him. The game turned out to be rather bland, as the evaluation never strayed from being equal. He played the Catalan, and we followed theory for about 20 moves, before I unknowingly played a novelty. We traded the heavy pieces after that, and drew a few moves later in an opposite colored bishop endgame.
A rather boring, bloodless draw that was. I was now 4/6, and was facing GM Giorgi Margvelashvilli (2556 FIDE) with the White pieces. This brought my opponent average rating of to 2440, which meant a GM norm would be 6.5 points. That was quite a tall order, and meant that I required 2.5/3. So I was already in a must-win situation essentially. The game didn’t start of too well, as I was unpleasantly surprised in the opening by Giorgi’s opening choice. He opted for the Benoni, something which he had almost never played before.
The Benoni is an extremely complex opening, and often leads to rich middle games, with many different ideas and plans for both sides. Since I couldn’t prepare for this chess line, I already found myself out of theory by move 10. He seemed to know the line for a couple more moves, but by move 15 we were both on our own – And so the battle began! Both of us began our operations, and the next 7 moves were devoted to maneuvering our pieces, preparing our respective plans to provoke some chinks in the enemy’s armor. That led to this critical position:
So I was now 2 pawns up, and the position was an easy win. I then made a rash decision and decided to trade Queens , thinking it’ll be an easy win as I simply roll my Kingside pawns up the board. But things turned out to be not so simple at all. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. It turns out there was only one winning plan in that position. I nearly suffered a heart attack, thinking that I had bungled the win! I settled down after the brief moments of paranoia, frantically searching for the winning plan. I began to think there might not be a win at all, and that I had compromised everything, when the winning plan sprung into my mind, just as Archimedes had sprung from his bathtub and exclaimed “Eureka.” Phew! It would have been a shame to ruin a well played game against a strong player, due to being hasty.
Yeah Baby! That was a really satisfying win, as I felt it was one of the better games I had ever played, and it came against a really strong Grandmaster. The ending reminded me of Game 8 in the Topalov-Anand World Championship in 2010. The major difference though was that Anand blundered in a drawn endgame, although a tough and accurate defense was required,while my ending was winning all along.
I was now 5/7, and my next pairing was with the highest rated player in the tournament, Ukraine chess prodigy GM Illya Nyzhynk (2638 FIDE). He was the 11th youngest person to become a GM at the time, clocking in at 14 years 3 months and 2 days. Illya is very modest, polite, and humble. He’s someone who is a chess role model to us youngsters who are aspiring to become a GM at a young age. I was extremely excited to see how would I match up against him, and was revving to go. Boy, did we have a game for the ages.
I emerged with a slight advantage in the opening, and kept on increasing it with powerful moves. Just as it seemed he had solved all his problems, POW, I pounded forward with striking blows. I was in tremendous form, and was literally playing the chess of my life. Eventually I created what should have been a decisive advantage, but was unable to find the killer blow. My advantage fizzled out and the game ended in a draw. I was extremely disappointed, as a win would have meant that a draw in the last round would be enough for a GM norm. When I went back and analyzed the game, I wasn’t able to find a clear win, but neither did the computer, at first, before eventually finding a way . I found out something else that was quite extraordinary. Illya and I had followed the game Carlsen-Gelfand from the 2013 Candidates Tournament for 29 moves (!) moves! Who said two games are never the same? 🙂 Magnus converted the very same position into a win against Gelfand, while I had to settle for a draw. Despite not finishing off the game, I was extremely proud to have found some powerful moves, just as Magnus did. We reached the following position after the opening, and shortly after, the fireworks began!
A draw may have seemed like a good result on paper, but considering the opportunity I had, it was not that good. I would need to play a 2530+ in the last round, in order to need just a draw for the GM norm. Unfortunately though, the pairings didn’t go my way, and I found myself faced against the prodiguous 13-year old, IM Samuel Sevian (2454 FIDE). So that meant I needed a win for the norm, a challenge which was made more difficult since I had Black as well. Samuel had been having a great tournament, and he needed a draw in the last round for his GM norm. We had played earlier in the St. Louis Classic Round Robin, where I had bungled a winning advantage, turned down a draw, and lost. Maybe I could even things up now.
So this is what it came down too, two youngsters vying to fulfill their dreams. Samuel surprised me in the opening with an uncommon move on move 3, to which I reacted horribly and essentially blew all my winning chances right there and then on move 5.
It was really quite a miracle I drew, Although to be fair, I willfully put myself in that situation trying to create some winning chances. At the end, we both had 6.5 points, but only Sevian had the norm. I congratulated Sevian, before exiting the playing hall with a feeling of regret and anguish. I had come tantalizingly close to a GM norm once again, and had missed it once more due to a technicality by the slightest of margins; since if my average opponent’s rating had been 2 points higher, a draw would have sufficed for a norm in the last round. But at least I knew I had given it my all. One thing for sure that was definitely poor from my side was my inability to overcome lower rated earlier in the tournament. That came back to hurt me, and I ended up paying a high price for it. I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The norm opportunity was tantalizingly close before it faded away. It was like holding on to sand – slipping right through my fingers.
Life isn’t always a walk in the park, with everything falling your way. Setbacks will happen, but it’s important we learn from them, and take them in stride. This was a learning experience, a painful one no doubt. It’s an experience i’m going to use, and come back swinging harder. After all, “The road to success is always under construction.”
Sometimes you unexpectedly come across low-hanging fruit. But that doesn’t mean you are still able to 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!
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.
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
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.
My last round win over GM Abramovic.
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.