How I Earned My Third IM Norm (By Alice Lee)

In this guest post by FM Alice Lee (a.k.a. IM-elect Alice Lee!), she shares her experience at the 2023 Canada Transnational chess event where she earned her third and final IM norm with an amazing performance.

I needed one tournament to get my final IM norm and the IM title, and this was the tournament where I did it.

I played in the 2023 Canada Transnational which was held in Montreal from June 6-11. It was the first time I had played in Canada, and I was excited to finally be traveling out of the country for the first time in almost 4 years.

FM Alice Lee and GM Susan Polgar.

FM Alice Lee and legendary GM Susan Polgar at the Susan Polgar National Girls Invitational.

My mom and I arrived a day before the event. Although I live in Minnesota where it snows half the year, the weather in Montreal was a lot colder than I had expected. It was gray and cloudy, but we had a good view from our hotel room on the 11th floor, so I was happy. 🙂

The first round was at 6 p.m. the next day. The chess club provided transportation to the tournament site which was 30 minutes away. There were around 20 people who were also going from our hotel to the tournament site, so the chess club did a great job in getting everyone there.

When we arrived at the site, I was impressed. It was held in the Quebec Sports Center which had 5 floors and a large spacious cafeteria. After arriving, I looked like this: 😯.

We went to the 5th floor, and a few speeches were made. Then, the pairings came out one minute before the round. It turned out I was playing as Black against the 2nd seed, GM Lazaro Bruzon. However, the game was not too dangerous for me. After a dryish opening, the game fizzled into a draw.

The next day, I found out that I was playing as White vs. GM Arturs Neiksans. Interestingly enough, I had played him a few weeks before in a ChessKid vs. Streamers event, which you can find more info about here! To my surprise, after a long game where we both went quite low on time, I had won!

Notice that in this position, Black’s position is quite cramped and there are not so many moves that he can make. White to move, try to find the best move:

Solution: 47. a3! a nice zugzwang position, Black has no moves. In the game, I played 47. Nd4+, and repeated moves once before playing f5. I was able to win material and the game a few moves later, although here a3 would’ve left Black no chances.

I was happy to have won against such a strong player, and I knew that with my results, the rest of the tournament I’d be playing many more strong players. The next three rounds I was paired against GM Marin Bosiocic, GM Alex Lenderman, and GM Gergely Szabo. While the rounds 3 and 4 games were relatively peaceful, I did get into some trouble in my round 5 game!

Here, White’s most intuitive move is 26. f6 in order to defend the g7 pawn. Should White play it?

Solution: White should’ve played 26. g4! after which he would be objectively winning due to my weak king. Instead, he played 26. f6 which allowed me to play the combination 26…Re6 27. g4 Rxf6 28. Qxf6 Rf7 29. g5 Rxf6 30. gxf6 where the king-pawn ending is a draw.

After a very chaotic game, we ended with a draw, a result I was happy with. In round 6, I was playing as White against GM Bator Sambuev. I knew a win would almost clinch my final IM norm, but it wouldn’t be easy. However, after an interesting opening and middlegame, we reached an endgame which was N vs. B but I was up a pawn.

Move 36, my opponent had played 35…b5. Here, I had a few winning moves, but one of them was the cleanest. White to play and win:

Solution: 36. Ng1! the threat is h3, Kf3, Kg2, and Nf3# say 36…c4 37. h3+ Kh4 38. Kf3 c3 39. Kg2 c2 40. Nf3#

The only way for Black to prevent this is if he would play 36…h4, but then I can play h3+ followed by Nf3 and Ne5 where Black has no counterplay.) In the game, I played 36. f5 which was still winning, although Ng1 would’ve been a very nice aesthetically pleasing way of winning.

I had won the game! I was very happy, and also relieved. After the game, I looked like a combination of this: 🙂+😌

I knew I had the possibility of getting my first GM norm if I got 1.5/3 for the last 3 rounds, but mostly I was relieved to have room for error in my last 3 rounds. In the 7th round, I was playing GM Nikita Meshkovs. I reached an equal ending, but it was harder for me to play and he won later.

FM Alice Lee and GM Le Quang Liem striking a pose together..

FM Alice Lee and GM Le Quang Liem, the Webster chess coach.

The last two rounds were on the final day. In the 8th round, I was playing as White against IM Ilyass Msellek. I knew that I would clinch my IM norm if I drew, so after not finding anything in the opening, I agreed to a draw. I had achieved what I came for the tournament for!!! I was happy to have achieved my goal after so many tries and attempts where I had failed. Finally, I had succeeded.

I had a lot of time before the last round, so my mom and I went outside and walked around. It was quite nice outside, and I wanted to walk around more in the big circle of buildings and streets. However, my mom did not want me to walk around in a big circle. She said it was too sunny and we hadn’t brought sunscreen. So we went to a shady area after eating lunch where we could sit.

The last round, I was Black against GM Omar Almeida Quintana. If I won, I knew I would get my first GM norm. I was a bit stressed before the round, but after I went into the playing room, there were closing speeches. And one of them was a surprise one by GM Hikaru Nakamura!!! He had just come back from winning the Norway Chess tournament, and I was very excited to see him. I felt a lot more calm before the round started. And although in the end, I lost after a tough game, it was still overall a very good tournament.

FM Alice Lee and GM Hikaru Nakamura.

FM Alice Lee and GM Hikaru Nakamura.

I achieved my 3rd and final IM norm, and along with breaking 2400 FIDE live rating in April, I got the IM title!!! Also, I got my final WGM norm and that title too as the icing on top of the cake 🙂. I have a lot of people to thank for this result, including my family, coaches, opponents, and the organizers of the tournament.

One last interesting note is that a week before the Canada tournament, I had played in a norm tournament in New York… and missed the IM norm by 2.5 points! I had come to the Canada tournament right after a tournament I had played really badly in, and I hadn’t expected my results for this tournament at all. Some of my best results came after my most frustrating tournaments, and one thing I think is important is to keep being persistent even after results that didn’t go as you hoped.

With that being said, I’m very happy to have achieved the IM title after almost 1.5 years of work towards this. Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey, and best of luck to everyone reading this in their future endeavors as well!

A big thanks to Alice for writing this article about her experience gaining the IM title, and once again, our biggest congratulations from everyone at ChessKid!