Foreigners WANTED

Dreams… as a Chess player, what are my dreams?  As a Chess player, what are your dreams?  Is there a title you want?   For me, of course, right now I want the title IM (International Master) and someday I hope to be a Super GM (Grand Master).  But for right now we take it one tournament at a time, and in each tournament we want a good result!  But after years of playing, we every once in a while have the Best tournament we have ever had before!  My last tournament would fit in that category for me!  In fact, it could be called close to a perfect tournament except for one thing…okay two things….or more appropriately, two players….two foreign players!

But of course, I have to start with the background first.

In August, I hit 2387 on my USCF rating (right after I got my first IM Norm) and up to that point it had been the highest I had ever reached on my rating.  5 tournaments later, I was at 2335 and had gone down in my rating in all 5 tournaments.   Overall, I only went down 53 points, but time, energy, and money were all being spent to have 5 disappointing results.  Although some lessons were learned and some good games were played, by now I wanted tournaments where I performed well, learned some good lessons, and gained rating points.

The last of these 5 tournaments was the North American Open, which was an okay result where I got 3.5 and only lost 3 rating points.  Three days after the North American Open finished I was scheduled to play in the Northern California International (known the previous year as the Berkeley Invitational).  I had played in this tournament the year before and had an okay performance, but I would definitely be looking to improve this year.

The Northern California International is a 9 round tournament with Norm opportunities.  It was USCF and FIDE rated and they were using the official FIDE time control.  The two biggest requirements for getting an IM Norm is 1) You have to have a performance (FIDE) rating of 2450, and 2) You have to play 4 foreign players or there has to be 20 foreign players in the tournament.  The tournament had 25 foreign players that were going to play as of 6 days before the start of the tournament, but circumstances made 6 foreign players withdraw and one switched their federation to the US.  6 foreigners!  6!!  Unfortunately that left very little time for the TDs to get 2 additional foreign players, which quite frankly… is very hard.

Okay so now tournament time!

The opening ceremony for the tournament was before the first round of the tournament (and thus the reason it is called the opening ceremony).  They had an introduction to the tournament, to some of the sponsors, and to associates, along with some performances by young talents.  After the ceremony they had food and we got to talk with each other before the first round started.  It was good.

First round I was playing IM Enrico Sevillano (USCF 2559), I had White and had prepared earlier that day and was excited for it.  I got a good position out of the opening and had a good time advantage.  It was a weird middle game, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to do.  I thought about it and decided I was going open up the position by sacrificing a Pawn though I thought I had compensation.  Looking back, I should have just improved and not opened the position, but what I played was playable.  Quickly after, the Queens got traded and I lost another Pawn, but got the exchange.  After that we played on and I got into a position where I either could trade Knights or move my Knight away.  I thought about for a little bit and as I got close to running out of time, moved my Knight away.  I found out quickly that it would have been better to trade Knights, and in time trouble my position fell apart, and I lost.  Congratulations to Enrico as he has done very well lately; he got his 2nd GM Norm recently and won the 15th Metropolitan Invitational.

Okay I was sad about the first game, but it was still a good game and Enrico was higher rated than me.  Second Game, I was playing Stephen Gaffagan (USCF 2063) as Black.  Neither one of us got much out of the opening, but he dropped a Pawn pretty quickly.  Pieces got traded off and I got another Pawn except his Rooks got activated.  We got into an endgame and I slowly, but surely, used my material advantage to win the game.

Now at 1 out of 2 I figured I was going to play someone higher rated, and this would be a good game to win.

Next game!  Third Round… the reason I am excited about this round is because this is where the tournament really started rolling for me.  I was playing IM Justin Sarkar (USCF 2452) with White.  I had prepared for Justin, but I quickly found myself out of my opening theory.  I was down a Pawn, but I had some good compensation for it.  And for me personally, I liked my position more and more as I thought about it.  After finding some good moves I found myself with a clear advantage.  We got into an endgame where we were equal in material, but I had a very strong passed Pawn.  He thought for a while trying to think of the best way to stop my Pawn, but realized how hard it was going to be and sacrificed his Bishop for the Pawn.  After that I had to figure out a few things, and in the end I was victorious.  Congratulations to Justin Sarkar as he won the Golden State Open after this tournament!

It felt good to win that game and I was excited for my next game!

My next game I was playing one of the superstars!  IM David Pruess (USCF 2469) as Black.  This was exciting because 1) David is awesome and I have so much respect for him!  2) Out of all my OTB games with David I have a 1-1 record against him (so this was the “who will take the plus score against the other one game”).

In the opening I felt good about it because I was in prep for quite a while.  Eventually, David played out of my prep, and as the center started to open up I felt he played well.  I got to a point where I wasn’t quite sure what to do and he seemed to have a better position.  I decided to gain space and put some pressure on the Queenside by pushing a Pawn.  I wasn’t entirely sure about the move, but he said he thought it was a very good move afterwards and from what I saw the position seemed to slowly turn to my favor after this move.  He traded Knights and found himself having to decide whether to take my Pawn or retreat his Rook.  He thought about it for a while and retreated his Rook.  (Afterwards we looked at what would have happened if he did take the Pawn instead and it seemed like 1) He obviously calculated that line more than me, and 2) it appeared he was doing well after taking my Pawn and was at least better. I was interested to find that the computer found a nice variation for Black to actually come out slightly better.  He moved his Rook back, but not far enough… he allowed me to get a tempo which helped me in the game.  (We both agreed that he should have moved his Rook all the way back to begin with).  My position on the Queenside improved and it got interesting as we got lower on time.  We got into an endgame where his Bishop was not very good and it seemed like I was better.  We played on and he had one chance to get good drawing chances, but after he didn’t play it I was able to use the position of his Bishop to my advantage.  In the end he had to trade Queens which wasn’t good for him or get mated which… is also bad for him.  And I won.

This win was good to get and hopefully meant that good things were to come!  I will definitely be looking forward to the next time David and I play!

Next game, I got my first foreign player IM Adam Hunt (USCF 2578) as White.  The game was interesting as we got a King’s Indian and I quickly found myself down a Pawn, but in a better position.  He didn’t really seem to know what I played and I found myself up 40 minutes at one point, but not to worry, I found plenty of ways to use my time.   We played on and the Kingside started opening up; he found some good moves and it seemed the position was equal.  We were both low on time and moving back and forth, when he decided to open it up.  According to the computer it was a blunder, but he blundered in time pressure.   I, however, didn’t find the winning line in time pressure and blundered it back… and we found ourselves back in an equal position after getting the extra time on move 40.  I had more pressure and I eventually got a clear advantage, I made it harder on myself because I played a move order inaccurately and when we got low on time again I had to choose between two lines, one winning, but very complicated and the other one plays out to 3-fold repetition.  In time pressure I couldn’t spend the time to figure out whether the winning line was winning or not so I settled for the draw.

Doing well so far!  3.5 Out of 5 playing 4 IMs and 1 expert!

Next game I got another (not nearly as famous as David) player who is recognizable on, GM Josh Friedel (USCF 2585) as Black.  Never heard him… on when?!  Well, if you haven’t heard of him he is on TV every once in a while. He is also a decently funny guy though don’t tell him I said that or it might go to his head.  This was the fourth time I had played Josh in the last 5 tournaments I have played in.

Out of the opening all I can say is, “THANKS DAVID!”  My preparation against David helped in this game as Josh didn’t go into what I expected him to.  I still found myself out of prep quickly, but felt I was doing well.  We played on and got into a position where Josh was better, but I felt okay about my position.  He sacrificed a Pawn momentarily, but it appeared the position was equal.  He said after the game that sacrificing the Pawn appeared to be drawish, but gave him all the winning chances.  We went on and he tried to put pressure on me, but as pieces got traded off I didn’t think he had much/any winning chances anymore.  The Bishops got traded off, putting us in an endgame with each of us having a Rook and 5 Pawns with both of us about to lose a Pawn.  I offered him a draw and he DECLINED it (see told you he was funny)!  He had some initiative and just wanted to see if it could get him anything.  Little tricky, but 10 moves after I offered him a draw he offered me a draw… I was very very… VERY tempted to decline it, but I had to accept it really was a draw (even though I wanted to get back him for declining my draw—all in fun) and if anything else I would lose.

Doing well and still going strong!  With 4 out of 6 it looked like I had good Norm chances, except I had only played 1 out of the 4 required foreigners. 

Seventh game, I was playing IM Bryan Smith (USCF 2497) as White. We got into the Dutch Defense and the position became strange really quickly.  Both of us ended up taking a lot of time in the opening.  I liked my position, but had a hard time figuring out how to proceed.  As my time ticked down, I knew I needed to move and as we went on I found myself down the exchange, but overall I was only slightly worse.  It started to get a little crazy as we got low on time, and my position seemed to be improving.  We got to a point where his position seemed a little difficult to play and with both of us being in time trouble he blundered in time pressure.  After he blundered, I won shortly after.

5 Out of 7 and my performance rating already guaranteed to be above 2450 (earning my second IM Norm) even if I lost my last 2 games.  But as great as that was, I had no chance of playing the 3 additional foreign players I needed to qualify for an IM Norm.

Eighth round I played one of the highest rated players I have ever played; 2008 US Champion, GM Yury Shulman (USCF 2666) as Black on Board 2.  In a tournament with 8 GMs and 16 IMs, I was feeling pretty good about being on Board 2 in the 8th round!  I got an okay position out of the opening, but it wasn’t what I had prepared and the Queens had been traded early.  It was clear his position was better, but it was close to equal.  He seemed to improve his advantage and started to push for more.  But as we went on he made an inaccuracy that let me get a lot of space on the Kingside, however, he was still slightly better.  He stayed slightly better for a while, but as we started playing a little faster I got some edge and on the last move (move 40) of time control I had an opportunity to get good winning chances, but missed it and was only slightly better with not any apparent winning chances.  He offered me a draw and after thinking about it for a while I accepted it.

5.5 out of 8: 1 Expert, 5 IMs, and 2 GMs, and already guaranteed to tie for 1st for the U2300 prize even if I lost the last round (as well as a good increase to my rating).

Last round I was playing GM Alejandro Ramirez (USCF 2670) as Black.  Alejandro I know I have played before.  I have a lot of respect for him, but he also was the only person I played that was shorter than me.  Alejandro played 1.Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 (the funny thing is that 4 out of my 5 games I was playing with Black in this tournament my opponent moved c4 within the first 2 moves) and quickly we got in an equal position.  I was okay with my position and in my trade attempt he decided to sacrifice a Rook for a Bishop and a Pawn with some good positional compensation.  I tried to get my Rooks active and it seemed I was getting some pressure, but I found myself in a position where it seemed every move weakened my position.  I pushed a Pawn and soon after had to commit to an endgame (which actually was drawn, but I had to find a trick) or move my Queen back.  I moved my Queen back and as his Pawns started pushing I found myself in a losing position and I resigned.

I lost, but I thought it was a good game and overall the best tournament result I had ever had in my lifetime.  I ended up tying for the U2300 prize with WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and NM Yian Liou (Congrats to them!), with my USCF rating going up to 2392 and Fide rating back over 2300. I had a performance rating of 2529, and would have actually had a GM Norm performance if I had just gotten a draw with Alejandro.

Thanks to the TDs for making this a great event and the people that made it happen!  Big congratulations to my coach and friend, GM Sam Shankland who took clear first and also those tied for 2nd GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Josh Friedel, and IM Marc Tyler Arnold!

Even though I didn’t get an IM Norm, I still had a great start to 2012 and still had a great time at the tournament!

Here is my game with GM Yury Shulman: