Chess can be very hard… Chess IS very hard. Recently I discovered just how hard it can be. I was invited by Susan Polgar to play in the Spice Cup in the C section. Now for a lot of tournaments it might seem like the C Group might be a little easier. But in this case, (unless you are really high rated) all three sections were strong. The C section had 4 GMs, 3 IMs, two SMs, and an FM (that was me!). Also, three of the participants in the C section attend Texas Tech and I assume were part of the National Championship Texas Tech team. I was the lowest rated going into the tournament and getting an IM Norm was 4.5 points for me (because it was a Round Robin we knew who we were playing beforehand which included knowing how many points it took to get a Norm). Most times an IM Norm is 5.5-6.5 so it was a good amount higher than other tournaments and probably the highest rated I had ever played in. The B section was also very strong with 3 GMs and 7 IMs, and the A section which is actually still going on right now as I am writing this (because they had a different schedule than the C and B sections) is one of the strongest ever seen in the United States at a Category 17 (average rating 2656).
One of the problems with being the lowest rated player is that nobody wants to lose to the lowest rated player or even get a draw with the lowest rated player. Because of this, every game was a major battle!! Some of the other players would be drawing quickly and then getting a long rest while I had to fight every game out. This is not entirely bad because I got some good experience, but it can be tiring being one of the last games every game. For example, one of my games with a GM went 80 moves ending in a draw, was one of the last games finished, and ended with about 40 minutes to eat and prepare before the next game which was another long battle going 63 moves. While the GM I had just played took a draw in the next game after 7 moves. I averaged 51 moves per game in this tournament.
Another difference for me was the time control. Since it was two games a day, they didn’t want to kill the players off so they made the time control shorter than most of the Norm tournaments (and shorter than all of the ones I have ever played in). It was a G90 with a 30 sec increment with no, none, zero, extra time after 40 moves!! So this time control was a little hard on me. See, for me personally, I like LONG time controls or else 5-10 minute time controls (Blitz). I do better when I have a set speed at the beginning of a game like how fast I need to play, instead of thinking and then having to blitz the rest of the game. Losing 30 minutes a game that you are used to having against very good players all rated higher than you is tough!! This tournament was a new thing for me because the time control which I have never done before, and also this was the strongest tournament I have ever played in, in my life, and it has been quite a while since I have been the absolute lowest player in a tournament.
It might seem silly going into a tournament where I am the lowest rated player and almost everybody (going by Fide Rating) is at least 100 points higher than me and that I am going to get crushed. But for me I felt like this “Fire” is exactly what I needed to help show me some of the things I was missing. And these players are what I’m trying to become right now so seeing the things that are different between them and me (that they’ re doing and I’m not) is important so I can improve that and get to that next level. I learned some good things there and am going to change how I study a little bit. Truthfully I loved being at this tournament and would go back in a second if I am invited which I hopefully will be!
One of the reasons I say “Chess IS hard” (in the opening phrase) is because if you make one mistake especially at the top levels that’s it--OVER, where in other sports you can make a mistake and make up for it later in the game. Especially in tournaments like this where you have a good amount of time before to prepare some trick in the opening. Sadly I was reminded of this when in my 7th round game against IM Vitaly Neimer after coming out well from the opening and in a good position, I blundered a Pawn in a second of not thinking (defended three times, protected three times…..I moved one of the protectors awayL) and then never got much of a chance after that.
It was definitely a hard tournament, but interesting enough I lost more games to IMs than to GMs; three of my four draws were against the GMs! I ended up with 2 points in the tournament (4 draws) and even though this is not as many points as I was hoping for (something like 4.5 would have been nice), I felt like I fought hard in every game and no points that were earned against me came easily (except maybe Neimer....darn brain freeze!!!) For anyone interested, you can find the final standings at: susanpolgar.blogspot.com/2011/10/final-spice-cup-standings.html
Here is one of my best games (with a few notes) where I actually should have won the GM, but got low on time and had to settle for a draw:
After the tournament was over we had a nice dinner and some cake then the Closing Ceremony. It was all very nice, but then we had the Blitz tournamentJ.
The Blitz tournament was unrated and I decided I was just going to have fun because the A, B, and C groups were all combined for the Blitz and almost everybody was playing and, well, I would be the lowest rated player out of everybody. The Blitz was seven rounds, one game per round, and 5 minutes with no increment or delay.
The first game I was on the last board, of course, because I was the lowest rated player against GM Andre Diamant who I had already drawn in the regular tournament. He was ready for a rematch after a draw that morning. It took me a minute to get my blitz brain going again and I got down a pawn, but after trading off most of the pieces, I was able to hold a draw in the end.
Next game, I was playing IM Marc Arnold. He played a somewhat strange line that I kind of knew and I sacrificed the exchange pretty quickly. I thought he held the position well, but I was attacking him. I decided he couldn’t take my Knight because of this mating threat. So I took a Pawn and he took my Knight and I threatened mate. He resigned, though he actually did have a way to hold, but probably still would have lost on time.
Third game, I strangely found myself with black on board 3 against GM Ray Robson. I was like “WOW!” I draw an OK game, luck out a little bit, win, and then am on board 3. This game I actually ended up playing pretty well and had a good position and up on time. Then all of the sudden I noticed I was pretty much winning and then we started playing faster because time started to get low. I won a piece and then got his King pretty close to being mated, so I was trying to get my Queen over to mate him for a few moves and then realized I had mate in one for two moves…. I mated him.
Now I was playing GM Sebastien Feller on board 2. Well ok, I was pretty happy by now! It is always fun to beat a GM and be playing another even higher rated oneJ. This game was interesting and I wasn’t sure who was better for most of the game, but he was up on time and I knew that was definitely going to be a somewhat deciding factor. He won a pawn, but I started to attack him and won the exchange for a Knight and Pawn and it was about equal, but I was down under 10 seconds. Then I started threatening a few things and he actually blundered mate while we were playing fast! Putting me at 3.5/4, but I was like shoot that meant I was playing GM Le Quang Liem rated over 2700 on board one (this is the guy that won Aeroflot twice in a row!!!! Seriously, who does that?).
Everybody started getting excited (and not just a little bit surprised) for me at this pointJ.
Like I guessed, I was playing GM Le Quang Liem, well, well… well. It started out interesting, and I got three Pawns for a Piece. I got stuck figuring out what to do and decided to protect my Pawn and then found out the Pawn (though it is always good to protect your Pawns) wasn’t my biggest concern at the moment, and I ended up losing...hmmmmm… I guess I can’t be disappointed to lose against a 2700+, but I was sad to say goodbye to board 1. At this point I said, “All I have to do is play Dominguez now and my tournament will be set.”
Sixth round, I was playing GM Eugene Perelshteyn as White and only went down to board 3. We traded off some things quickly and we had only one open file which he had control of, but we ended up trading Queens and Rooks off in probably a dead drawn endgame, except he was up a lot of time. I played really quickly and got him down about where I was on time and then we were down to like 1 second and he flagged. It was insane because he was up a decent amount of time. (Later IM Lev Altounian told me that he asked Eugene how he lost and he replied “I don’t know, he made like 100 moves in one second and just won!”).
Last round and it seemed that it couldn’t have happened better because my tournament became “set”. I was playing GM Leinier Dominguez as Black on board 2! He played an opening I knew fairly well and we quickly traded off Queens. We then traded several more Pieces and then one pair of Rooks, which cost me a Pawn, but was a theorized draw. I was able to hold and when he offered me a draw after a while, I thought I might have been able to flag him (he was down to 10 seconds) which would have given me a tie for first, but I felt like that was probably a little more disrespect then I wanted to show a 2700+ GM.
I ended up tying for third with 5/7 points! Not too bad considering I played 6 GMs and 1 IM including all but one of the GMs from the A group that were playing in the tournament (GM Yury Shulman did not play).
Overall it was a great experience and I am very thankful to everybody that supported me and made this tournament possible!
My game with GM Ray Robson (with a few notes):