“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 and IM Akshat Chandra

FM Karl Dehmelt and IM Akshat Chandra

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.

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Nikala Huschenbeth

IM Akshat Chandra and 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 Tegshsuren Enkhbat and IM Akshat Chandra

IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and IM Akshat Chandra

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.

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Gata Kamsky

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Gata Kamsky

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!

GM Gata Kamsky and IM Akshat Chandra

GM Gata Kamsky and IM Akshat Chandra

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 Lawrence Kauffman and GM Gata Kamsky

GM Gata Kamsky and GM Lawrence Kaufman

GM Mark Paragua

GM Mark Paragua

IM Levan Bregadze

IM Levan Bregadze

All pictures are either my own or from official website.  For more official 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

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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.

Dueling in the Dunes!
The Qatar Masters Open 2014

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

The Missed Combination Of A Lifetime

 

Actual Postion - Black to Move now in a combination  which  secures a decisive advantage

Actual Position – Black to move now in a combination which secures a decisive advantage

An article I wrote was published on Chessbase.  I had posted the combination puzzle as ‘Insane Tactic‘ on the blog earlier. For the article I was able to interview GM Liem Le Quang. The smart folks at Chessbase created the exact position in a 3D board (pictured above) using Fritz,  If you haven’t tried figuring out the winning combination for Black, please go ahead and use the board above. The Board’s on Fire! Black to move…

I’ve copied some of the Chessbase article below.  For the rest, you’ve to go to Chessbase.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

The Missed Combination of a Lifetime

We’ve all had games where we have overlooked a dazzling combination, and in fact went on to lose. It’s an extremely painful feeling when you find out that you missed out on winning the game with a beautiful finish. I spotted a particularly dramatic example from the Asian Continental in 2012, and discussed it with the player involved. It’s a jewel of a combination.

Liem: “It would have been my best game ever …”

A month ago, I came across a game which had an extremely exciting and complicated position. It took place during the Asian Continental Chess Championship 2012 held in the city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The game was between…

Chinese GM Ni Hua, currently rated 2677 and ranked number 67 in the world, and..

Chinese GM Ni Hua, currently rated 2677 and ranked number 67 in the world, and..

Vietnamese GM Liem Le Quang, rated 2678, number 63 in the world.

Vietnamese GM Liem Le Quang, rated 2678, number 63 in the world.

Ni,Hua (2673) – Le Quang,Liem (2703) [B84]

Asian Continental op Ho Chi Minh City (8), 12.05.2012

What is going on here? The board is on fire, everything seems to be hanging, and both kings look relatively unsafe. White has just thrusted forward with 29.g6, and it seems his attack has broken through first, as there seems to be no satisfactory way to deal with the threat of 30.Qxh7. Liem played 29…h5??, after which White won with 30.Qxh5 Ba3+ 31.Kxb3 1-0.

Sadly for Liem he was unable to find an extraordinary, albeit difficult, tactical refutation to White’s g6 move, and missed out on a glorious win. I connected with him a few days ago to get his perspective, and insights. Reminiscing about the game he told me, “It would have been my best game ever if I had not missed that combination.” He was very polite and gracious to answer some of my questions about the game.

Akshat: What was the time situation at that point (move 29) – specifically how much time did you have?

Liem: I think both Ni Hua and I had around ten minutes at that point, with 30 seconds increment per move – but that doesn’t help much in this situation.

Read more on Chessbase

To Take, or Not to Take?

I came across a game between British GMs John Nunn and Mark Hebden from the recently concluded World Seniors Championship. There was a very neat finish to the game, and so I thought I’ll share it.

In a lost endgame position, Hebden tried his last chance with …Rg1:

How should White react?

A) Kxg1 – Capture Black’s Rook, or

B) Kf3 – Decline the sacrifice?

Happy Solving! Enjoy!

TS7

Insane Tactic

I was going through some games, and I came across one which had an extremely exciting and complicated position. The game was between former Chinese Super GM Ni, Hua, and Vietnamese Super GM Le Quang, Liem.

Going back to the position before move h5, your move is to find the winning combination for Black. Take your time, because it’s quite difficult; probably an 8 on a scale of 10 :).

Black to move. Good Luck!

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Washington International 2014
Sand through my Hands

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.”

TS7

 

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The Chicago Open 2014
Stricter Rules on Players Leaving the Playing Area

Recently I learnt about a comment being floated by chess player Gopal Menon.  He is aggrieved at two incidents that occurred at the Chicago Open in May 2014 when he played me, and then another player later in the tournament.  First let’s look at what he wrote:

Gopal Menon

“After a very long and difficult week of chess I had time to do a little reflection: Despite starting well at the Chicago Open, managing to beat 2 Grandmasters in the first 2 rounds, my tournament somehow fell apart around the middle. I realize that at the end of the day that I and only I am responsible for the result that I had, however there were two incidents in particular that I felt affected my performance. During my round 4 game with IM Akshat Chandra I was accused of cheating by him and his father no more than four (!) times during the same game. The first complaint was apparently by Akshat which I put to rest, however his father kept repeatedly making the same claims that I was cheating in some way.
There is a very simple explanation for all this, as many of my colleagues know I have a bad habit of smoking. During the game I was drinking coffee as well so I ended up using the bathroom a bit more than usual as well. Followed to the bathroom by the tournament director, no electronic devices were found on my person. In fact, this was a day where I had forgotten my cell phone at home! I understand the right to complain of supposedly suspicious behavior, but to complain as many times as my opponent’s father did, especially for someone who is not playing the game, should be considered harassment. Especially on account of the lack of evidence each time a tournament director confronted me (no electronic devices, smoking within view of people etc). This harassment had a very clear effect on me as the repeated accusations had clouded my thinking and I ended up blowing a winning position, finishing with a draw. This got me thinking that claims for cheating should be made solely by the opponents or tournament participants/directors as well as there being some sort of consequences for repeated accusations which have no base (once again, harassment).
Another incident which irked me greatly was when a tournament participant who for now shall remain nameless used a cell phone wand (given to her by a member of the tournament director staff(!)) on me while I was sitting in time pressure with 2 minutes to make 10 moves in order to reach time control…[rest deleted]”

Gopal is right that I brought his unusual behavior to the Tournament Director (TD) / Arbiter’s attention.  But he is wrong on pretty much everything else.   Here’s what my father informed me and I paraphrase here.

My father – “It appears to me that Gopal completely missed out the 10 – 15 minutes of security protocol lecture from the tournament organizers. The emphasis on anti-cheating measures was the strongest at any CCA tournament thus far, and the lecture so detailed and lengthy that it delayed the round by about 15 minutes.  Gopal seems to have missed it all, which could very well be since he arrived late to the table. In the lecture, the TDs were very clear about what is acceptable and what is unusual behavior, and the importance of not having any devices on person in the restroom. They designated an official restroom and the official playing area, which was the playing hall and the narrow strip in-front of the entrance door, the official bathroom and the analysis room. The Chief TD mentioned explicitly that anyone who leaves the playing area during an ongoing game to go to the far away restroom or to hotel reception area or outside the hotel will be a person of interest for TDs and will have a greater chance of inviting a scan with the cell phone wand (detector). If a cell phone is found, the game will be forfeited (for the Open section, and other penalties for non-FIDE sections). Outside the official restroom, the organizers provided a desk to deposit any devices before entering the restroom. Gopal repeatedly left the playing hall for a number of minutes during a few moves, and his continued lengthy absence often on immediate moves was considered unusual by my son.

Akshat mentioned this unusual behavior to the TD inside the hall  saying that “My opponent (Gopal) isn’t probably doing anything wrong, but his behavior is unusual and so I thought I’ll tell you guys just to be sure.” He never said to the TD that Gopal is cheating.  But like any other player, if you see something unusual, you must say something during the game, and that’s what Akshat did.  The TD told Akshat that they will be watchful. I informed the TD outside the hall who was monitoring players leaving the playing area. He simply asked me the Table # and told me that the player must inform any of the TDs inside, which Akshat had already done. At that time Gopal was leaving the playing area and the TD knew who I was talking about.  That was the only one time I spoke to the TDs. I never spoke to them again. So when Gopal continues to say that I complained 4 times to the TD, he is simply assuming and not realizing that the TD’s interest was raised because of his activities.  As Gopal himself mentioned that he kept leaving the playing hall for various reasons. It’s clear that any subsequent interest shown in him by the TDs was because he was leaving the Playing Area repeatedly – whether going outside for a smoke or going to the far away restroom instead of the official one.  That was exactly what the organizers/Arbiter had informed the players will invite additional scrutiny and the cell phone scan. But it’s obvious that Gopal had missed all those instructions by arriving late for the game.  To me this appears like a self-inflicted problem.  Of course, Gopal must have been annoyed because during the game he bumped me hard on the way to his board while I was observing some games.

In any case, regarding blowing away a winning position, if it makes Gopal feel any better there was no such decisive advantage to blow away.  I’ve asked Akshat to post the game below.”  (End of Paraphrasing)

So that’s my father’s account. It’s important to clarify such a misunderstanding. I wish Gopal would have brought it up in the Analysis room during our post-game review. The fact that he was scanned several times had nothing to do with me or my father. Arbiters don’t take too kindly to intervention by non-players.  It was due to Gopal’s own repeated exit of the Playing Area. Hope he realizes that now.

Gopal is a very good chess player who is underrated.  Good luck to him.

Here’s the game we played:

TD at the Chicago Open outside the Official Restroom – all devices had to be deposited before entering the restroom.