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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 !